Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

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

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.

Book Reviews: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon and Lineup by Liad Shoham

The Golden EggThe Golden Egg
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2242-1
Trade Paperback

It is no mean feat to sustain a mystery series at this high a level through 18 novels. Of course, that is just what Donna Leon has accomplished, and more (this is the 19th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery). Of course, The Golden Egg features that charming and erudite Venetian detective in a tale that begins with the death of a mentally challenged deaf mute who works in a tailor shop frequented by Brunetti’s wife, Paola. She goads Brunetti into looking into the death, which appears to be natural.

At the same time, Brunetti’s boss timidly asks him to look into whether or not the mayor’s son’s fiancée, part owner of a store, is evading taxes or paying bribes to tax officials. The mayor, of course, is running for reelection and could do without any embarrassing revelations. The Commissario solves this one quickly and smoothly, but spends the entire novel on the other investigation, which becomes more complicated with every interview, no part of which is an official inquiry.

The charm of Brunetti’s home life, his relationship with his wife, daughter and son are always plusses in the books that make up this series. Unlike most others, the central theme of this novel is not a serious issue, but a personal, subtle one. Written with the usual depth of knowledge about Venice, its allure and atmosphere, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.

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LineupLineup
Liad Shoham
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai
Harper, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-223744-6
Hardcover

This novel is the first to be published in the US by Liad Shoham, an Israeli attorney and the author of five best-selling novels in his native country, apparently considered “the Israeli John Grisham.” I was immediately intrigued by the setting, and by the protagonists, for the book presents wonderful character studies of three men: Amit Giladi, a would-be investigative journalist who’d been covering crime and education for the local Tel Aviv paper for 7-1/2 months; Police Inspector Eli Nachum; and Ziv Nevo, a man who in the last eighteen months had lost his job and his wife.

A brutal rape in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood leads to the arrest of Nevo by Inspector Eli Nachum and Giladi is sent by his editor, in the most urgent terms, to cover the story and get a scoop for the paper. There is no evidence, forensic or otherwise, and the girl couldn’t see the face of her attacker, but Nachum is led to Nevo when the victim’s father, who had been haunting the street where the daughter lived in the firm belief that the attacker would be back looking for another victim, sees him on the same street, acting suspiciously, a stalker, and becomes convinced that he is the one they are seeking; he soon convinces Nachum as well. The problem arises when that certainty leads to a fatally contaminated lineup: The father had followed and taken photos of Nevo after spotting him on the scene, and shown his daughter the photos, and Nachum knows this. Nevo, guilty of something totally unrelated to the rape, shows clear signs of having done something about which he is keeping silent, and does not divulge what he was doing on that street that night. With the best of intentions and determined to prevent another young woman from suffering the same fate, Nachum sees to it that the man is convicted of the crime, determined to “do whatever it took to put the rapist behind bars.”

The tale is well written (despite the fact that the first half felt as it needed some judicious editing). It is a compelling plot, and the characters are ones that this reader came to care about. I will be certain to watch for the next book from this author, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2014.

Book Review: The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012
ISBN 9780802120526
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?

There are certain authors I always can count on to provide me with an excellent read, a brief escape into a world I can laugh at or be mesmerized by, a world that shakes me to the core for one reason or another. I understand, though, that many of those authors whose work I admire so much might stumble now and then. The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid‘s stumble.

Ms. McDermid is a wonderful writer—I have enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read until this one—and even this has some redeeming aspects. It’s not a BAD book; it just doesn’t rise to the level of her usual top notch work and that becomes evident early in the story.

Most of the disappointment I had was in regard to the credibility of the story. For a woman who shows a lot of inner strength and is clearly able to take care of herself, Stephanie seems too insecure, beyond what could be attributed to her past relationship. More importantly, what happens in the airport just isn’t believable enough. Stephanie knows she will have to be screened or patted down because of the metal in her leg so why wouldn’t she make sure the child stayed close by? As much as we, the public, dislike the behavior of a few TSA employees (and as much as we may hate the whole system), I have a hard time believing they would so totally dismiss her screams for help when she sees what’s happening. And, when it becomes obvious that time is critical, no FBI agent would allow Stephanie to go on and on with the backstory, nor would Stephanie want to blather on while little is being done to find Jimmy. The last straw for me was when I realized that she was inexplicably hesitant to tell the FBI agent about the person who is very likely to be behind the kidnapping.

Unfortunately, with such plot holes early on, I found it hard to engage with the story or even take it as seriously as such a topic deserves but I did finish the book, hoping Ms. McDermid would pull it together. To a certain extent, she did, but the twist ending was too little too late.  I have no doubt the author will get back on track with the next book and I’m certainly going to look forward to it but, sadly, this one is not a keeper for me.  Our reactions to books are very personal, though, and many of her devoted readers will like it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.

Book Reviews: The Burning Soul by John Connolly, Trackers by Deon Meyer, What It Was by George Pelecanos, A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn, and A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

The Burning Soul
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6527-0
Hardcover

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker Thrillers usually combine an element of the supernatural with basic detective work.  In this, the tenth in the series, the eerie aspects are slight, while the hard work of solving a case winds its way through the pages with realism and power.  It is a twisted story that begins when an attorney asks Charlie to assist a client, and unfolds with a ferocity of dynamic proportions.

It appears that the client, Randall Haight, as a 14-year-old, and with a friend, murdered a young girl in an incident with sex-related overtones. Following long jail terms, both men were released with new identities to give them a chance at rehabilitation.  Randall is now an accountant leading a quiet life in a small town on the Maine coast. And then a 14-year-old girl goes missing and Randall starts receiving reminders in the mail of his past transgression from someone who apparently has discovered his true identity.  He asks the attorney and Charlie to protect his anonymity by finding the source.  And this leads Charlie into a labyrinth of complications.

It is a gripping story, one in which the author throws red herrings into the reader’s path before unveiling a completely unexpected conclusion. Tightly written and plotted, the novel is a most welcome addition to an outstanding series and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Trackers
Deon Meyer
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1993-3
Hardcover

Bringing back two characters from previous novels, the South African author has written a complicated story with three separate plots which are related both in circumstances and the people involved.  One theme involves what appears to be a Muslim plot, which a government intelligence service suspects at first to be a tradeoff between the smuggling of diamonds in exchange for weapons.  A second, an offshoot of the smuggling operation by a man seeking to recover a large sum of money he claims was stolen from him by gangsters (who incidentally are involved in the smuggling operation).

Then there is free-lance bodyguard Lemmer, who makes his second appearance in a Deon Meyer novel  [the first being The Blood Safari], who becomes involved indirectly in the smuggling operation when he accompanies a truck bearing two black rhinos into South Africa from a neighboring country which the gangsters believe is the method for bringing in the diamonds.  And finally Mat Joubert, the enigmatic South African detective, now retired, on his first day working for a private detective agency, who manages to bring all the threads together.

This stand-alone thriller aims high, and largely achieves its ambitions.  Adding to the spice is not only the author’s ability to portray the social, economic and political background of South Africa in depth, but a chilling look at how it is also a place where terrorists can run rampant.  And, icing on the cake, a first-rate mystery to keep the reader enthralled.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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What it Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books/Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20954-0
Paperback, 246 pp., $9.99

The year was 1972.  Derek Strange was out of the Metropolitan Police Dept. for four years and struggling to build up his PI agency.  Nixon was in the White House, but not for long.  Watergate was just up ahead.  The riots that tore the nation’s Capitol apart were some years ago, but unrest and attitude still ran strong.

Against this background George Pelecanos has written about Strange’s early career as a 26-year-old and his relationship with Detective Frank Vaughn.  It all starts when Strange is retained by a good-looking babe to find a missing ring of little “value” but “great” sentimentality.  This takes him on a journey, which enables the author to describe the crime conditions – – including a one-man murder wave – – and population and living conditions of D.C., along with almost a catalogue of the music of the era.

Written with the usual vernacular and tight prose as displayed in the previous novels in the series, the graphic details of the characters are mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the novel is available in three different forms: the paperback, as well as a limited hardcover edition and an eBook version.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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A Mortal Terror
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-994-0
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist.  It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator.  But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters.  So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes.  Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare.  His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic.  All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better.  And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened.  The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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A Bitter Truth
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-201570-9
Hardcover

This Bess Crawford mystery, set during World War I, finds her on a short leave from the front, intending to spend the Christmas holidays with her parents.  When she arrives at her apartment in London, she finds a young woman huddled on her doorstep, cold, hungry and distraught.  In sympathy, Bess takes her up to her room and learns that she has run away from her husband and home because he has abused her, and her disfigured face is proof.

From this improbable beginning, Bess becomes involved in a family’s secrets and along the way in a few murders, since she accompanies the young woman back to her home and family.  The novel rambles on, as the plot unfolds and the police fumble in an effort to solve one murder after another.  Bess returns to France, only to be recalled by the police for additional inquiries.

There are some excellent aspects to the novel, including insights into the lives of upper crust Britons of the period.  But it appeared to this reader that to bring the plot to a conclusion, the mother-son author duo reached out to contrive a solution that has little if any foundation. Nevertheless, the book is an enjoyable read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O’Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O'Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Review: Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Beastly Things
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-8021-2023-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the body of a man is found in a canal, damaged by the tides, carrying no wallet, and wearing only one shoe, Brunetti has little to work with. No local has filed a missing-person report, and no hotel guests have disappeared. Where was the crime scene? And how can Brunetti identify the man when he can’t show pictures of his face? The autopsy shows a way forward: it turns out the man was suffering from a rare, disfiguring disease. With Inspector Vianello, Brunetti canvasses shoe stores, and winds up on the mainland in Mestre, outside of his usual sphere. From a shopkeeper, they learn that the man had a kindly way with animals.

At the same time, animal rights and meat consumption are quickly becoming preoccupying issues at the Venice Questura, and in Brunetti’s home, where conversation at family meals offer a window into the joys and conflicts of Italian life. Perhaps with the help of Signorina Elettra, Brunetti and Vianello can identify the man and understand why someone wanted him dead.

Venetian detective Guido Brunetti is faced with a baffling case when a man with no identifying papers is found in the water but, with his usual cleverness and doggedness, he follows the few clues he has to put a name to the body. That turns out to be the easy part of solving this particular crime and finding out why he was murdered will lead to a far more extensive and alarming ongoing crime, one Brunetti may not be able to stop.

Beastly Things has some positive things going for it, primarily being able to spend more time with our beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti, his family and his colleagues Signorina Elettra and Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, but it ranks as one of my least favorite books in the series. It seems much shorter than previous titles with short chapters and a lot of white space and I was disturbed by the attention devoted to a topic that’s related to the mystery but given more importance.

I’ve been a big fan of Brunetti for years but this entry in the series has left me unsatisfied and a bit disturbed. Ms. Leon is known for addressing social issues of all kinds within the storylines but, this time, I felt the crime solving and the always-enjoyable family scenes were overshadowed by the agenda du jour, telling the reader what horrible things happen in the meat industry and, essentially, that we should all become vegetarians. I realize the books are set in Italy and that standards for treatment of the animals may not be the same as in the US but, all in all, I felt as though PETA’s objectives were the reason for this particular book. Yes, I’m a meat-eater and, yes, I know animals have to be killed for me to have that meat but the expose drawn by the author is too much. Chapter 19 should have a warning to the unsuspecting reader as it’s completely over the top and I almost stopped reading the book because of it. Also, when the reader is not being bombarded with this particular crusade, political corruption seems to be the fall-back position. The two themes become tiresome, topics to be endured in order to get back to the mystery that is meant to be the central story.

In the end, and I mean the end of the book, the magic that is the author’s writing talent returns with her description of the murder victim’s funeral service and she had me in tears as she so often does. Will I read the next book in the series? Yes, because Ms. Leon is such a gifted writer and the crime-solving is always good. I just hope that, in the future, the author will take a less-determined approach to saving the world and devote more time and energy to Brunetti and his activities.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.