Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.


The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Reviews: A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré and The Trespasser by Tana French

A Legacy of Spies
John le Carré
Viking, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2511-4

The Cold War may have ended many years ago in real life, but not for John le Carré, who has now written a fascinating book derived from two of his earlier George Smiley novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Smiley merely plays a background role in Legacy.  Instead, Peter Guillam, his disciple, who retired from the Circus (the British Secret Service) to the family farmstead in southern France, plays a central part in the story.

Peter receives a letter summoning him to London where he is instructed to review files and interrogated about an operation during the Cold War in which an operative and a source were killed.  It would appear that a potential parliamentary inquiry or even a civil action blaming Peter and others for the deaths and seeking monetary damages, brought by the offspring of the two unfortunate victims, is possible.

As Peter reviews the material, le Carré recreates the times and travails of the period, as we relive through the actions of the characters conditions in East Berlin and the spy craft during the Cold War.  It is history recreated with all the tensions of the period, excellently written with humor and panache.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.


The Trespasser
Dublin Murder Squad #6
Tana French
Penguin, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-1431-1038-5
Trade Paperback

Antoinette Conway and her partner, Stephen Moran (who she brought on board in the Dublin Murder Squad after working with him in a previous novel) are the newbies in the elite Irish police group, and as such, only receive humdrum domestic dispute assignments.  Until one day the gaffer hands them what turns out to be a murder case of a pretty young woman.  The case turns out to be anything but a simple lovers quarrel.

Antoinette, the only female on the squad, takes a lot of guff from other members (who want her anywhere else), and her resentment shows throughout the book.  While she enjoys her work, she contemplates leaving for an offer in the private sector.  Meanwhile, she has a murder to solve as her first lead detective case and goes about it diligently if somewhat misdirected by an experienced detective assigned to work with the partners for reasons not revealed until the end.

One criticism I made in the previous novel by Tana French was that it was tedious and slow reading.  The same is true of The Trespasser.  One has to plod through a couple of hundred pages of continual repetition before it all begins to make sense.  And then, and only then, does the reading become enjoyable and worthwhile and the plot begin to come together.  The novel would have been rated at a higher level had it not been for this criticism.  Certainly, Ms French writes well and creates clever plots.  One could wish she would now turn her attention to some judicious editing.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Panthers Play for Keeps by Clea Simon and His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

Panthers Play for KeepsPanthers Play for Keeps
A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir
Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2014
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-870-3

Pru Marlowe is walking Spot, a dog she is training. In the woods outside of town Spot suddenly begins whining and Pru decides to give him a break and let him run after whatever he is thinks is up ahead. Pru has an ability to communicate with animals and can normally understand what the animal is attempting to communicate but not this time. Pru gives Spot the Danger signal and he responds by stopping in front of Pru as he should but Spot continues whining. Pru finds herself gazing in front of Spot at the body of a woman that has been attacked by something that has shredded her clothing and left her head split open. It would seem the woman had been mauled by a large cat.

Pru is training the dog to be a companion to a man who is facing blindness. Laurel, Pru’s romantic rival for the affection of Detective Jim, is fostering the dog until Spot is completely trained and ready to be turned over to his new master. Pru’s cat believes that there is a big cat on the loose and Spot believes that there is more to the problem than just the big cat. When Pru finds out that the deceased is an employee of the man she is training Spot for she decides to do some investigating on her own.

This is an interesting mystery and one that any animal lover would enjoy.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2014.



His Majesty's HopeHis Majesty’s Hope       
A Maggie Hope Mystery
Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-53673-0
Trade Paperback.

This excellent historical novel is, of course, fiction all the way, although it is set during one of the world’s greatest real upheavals. It should appeal to readers interested in World War II, in spy and espionage stories, and those who like solid thrillers. It also provides some interesting insight into how the great evil that was Adolph Hitler and the Nazi empire, evolved in the early years of the European war before the entry of the United States.

The novel owes a good deal of its strength and interest to the closely personal stories of Maggie Hope, the central character and her colleagues, her loves and those around her at greater distance. On one level readers are treated to a well-researched look at the maneuverings of intelligence gathering efforts on both sides of the English Channel, and the way in which British spymasters recruited and ruthlessly used any human resources to help them win the war. And even though these people have the reader sympathies, being on the side of the angels, their attitudes and actions were not much different from those of the enemy.

Maggie Hope, an American, recruited for and working in British Secret Service, is dropped into Berlin to deliver communications devices. And because she’s an independent sort, opportunities arise that keep her in-country far beyond the scope of the original mission. As a character, Maggie is exactly the kind of heroic figure we want in these stories, yet she is far from perfect, beset by doubts, and ineptitude from colleagues, she manages with appropriate derring-do and a lot of help from family, to get out of Germany just ahead of the Gestapo.

There are coincidences in life. That’s a recognizable fact. There are multiplicities of events going on in the lives of those around us. Another accepted fact. Too much activity and too many coincidental happenings might cause an undercover agent to become seriously paranoid. If this novel were not so well written, so replete with high emotion, if the main character was other than a bright, independent accomplished woman of the nineteen forties, I might have set the novel down unfinished. As it is, His Majesty’s Hope is better than three, but doesn’t rate a four star review.

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

Book Reviews: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear, Cold Wind by C.J. Box, The Informationist by Taylor Stevens, Past Tense by Catherine Aird, and Bank of the Black Sheep by Robert Lewis

A Lesson in Secrets
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-172767-2

The common characteristics of the Maisie Dobbs series are the growth in the character, developments over time and, of course, current events. In the present novel Maisie, who served as a nurse in France during World War I (after having been a servant girl before), has grown over the years, mentored by Dr. Maurice Blanche.  Now, in 1932, she has been made independently wealthy as Blanche’s heir, profitably operating her investigation business, and is ripe for a new adventure.

Before he died, Blanche predicted that intelligence work for the crown was in Maisie’s future.  And so, it comes to pass that she is recruited to participate in an investigation being conducted by the joint efforts of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service.  She is to pose as a junior lecturer in philosophy (another of her talents, apparently) at a college in Cambridge founded by Greville Liddicote, a pacifist who has published a number of children’s books, including an anti-war novel that was banned during the Great War.  Maisie is to monitor activities at the school.

However, where Maisie is concerned, can various other sub-plots not arise?  To begin with, she’s trying to get her father to move from his cottage to the manor she inherited (to no avail), induce her assistant, Billy Beale, to accept a house in which to move his growing family, help a woman whose husband is killed in a questionable accident at work, and, last but not least, help solve the murder of Liddicote (while told specifically her brief is her intelligence assignment and not getting involved in the murder inquiry).

The story progresses in a persuasive manner, smoothly written.  It emerges just as Adolph Hitler is rising to lead Germany, giving a hint to the coming of World War II, as Maisie detects Nazi sympathizers in the college, and, indeed in unsuspecting Britain.  A welcome addition to the series, this newest entry is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.


Cold Wind
C.J. Box
Putnam, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15735-6

It’s not easy being a game warden, especially if your name is Joe Pickett and you keep getting sidetracked with all kinds of side issues, murders, assignments from the governor and so on.  In this, the 11th in the series, there are a few twists, including a look at the issue of wind energy.

But first for the main plot:  Joe’s less-than-beloved mother-in-law is indicted for the murder of her wealthy fifth husband, “The Earl,” who had begun the largest wind farm in Wyoming at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.  Joe’s beloved wife, Marybeth, implores Joe to find the real killer.  Meanwhile, his mysterious buddy, Nate, suffers the loss of his lover in an attempt on his life, setting up a subplot in which the two men reconcile after a falling out in a previous book.

As the story progresses, smoothly and interestingly, all is not as it seems. As usual, the author provides sweeping and beautiful vistas of the countryside, and in-depth insights into the characters.

Heartily recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.


The Informationist
Taylor Stevens
Crown, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71709-2

A new protagonist, Vanessa (Ness) “Michael” Munroe makes her first appearance in this debut thriller, apparently destined to be a series with the author hard at work on the next two books.  Sort of a bionic woman, Munroe is capable of most anything from finding information for corporate clients to murder.

What she has not done so far is find missing persons, at least until she is retained to accomplish what others over a four-year period have failed to do:  Find a young girl named Emily in Africa, or prove that she has met her death while she was traveling there with two male companions.  The quest brings Munroe back to Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon where she grew up.  It is a trip filled with danger and betrayal, as she seeks the missing girl with the help of Francisco Beyard, whom she met as a 14-year-old when she served in his mercenary band.

It is unusual for a first effort to be as absorbing as is this novel, with a fast pace and intricate plot.  Certainly the denouement is worthy of a more seasoned author.  Ordinarily, this reader reacts with apprehension when the protagonist seems super-human, but was not disturbed by Munroe’s antics.  So it is with no hesitation that the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.


Past Tense
Catherine Aird
Minotaur Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-67291-1

This is the newest in the Sloan and Crosby mystery series, DCI Sloan and Constable Crosby, that is, the quaint English combination resembling Abbott and Costello with an accent.  A couple of seemingly unrelated deaths, one of natural causes, the other perhaps murder, set off a police procedural in which a series of unconnected events and circumstances seem to make no sense.

Written in a style that befits the English countryside, the dialog is of a unique tone.  The plot moves forward without a hint to the reader as to the conclusion, which, may or may not be a good thing.  But it is a light and enjoyable read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.


Bank of the Black Sheep
Robert Lewis
Serpent’s Tail, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84668-745-7
Trade Paperback

Robin Llywelyn, ostensibly a private detective, wakes up in a hospice with amnesia, handcuffed to a bed after a week-long infusion of morphine. Such a state gives him a real slow start, along with the reader.  Additionally, he is told he has lung cancer with just a couple of months to live. Actually, it seems from what follows that he can go on forever.

It turns out that Llywelyn was involved in some kind of scam, but of course he can’t remember what it was.  And so, he sets out inadvertently to find out about his past, bumbling his way to make a final score and to atone for his past transgressions before his end. For much of the novel, to this reader, it dragged on with a lot of wearying prose and observations.  It is not until near the conclusion that the novel really becomes interesting, and then we are drawn into the real story.

Bank apparently is the last in a trilogy of Llywelyn detective stories and, given the medical prognosis, it would seem to be just that.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.