Book Reviews: The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger and Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

The Shadow BrokerThe Shadow Broker
A Mr. Finn Novel
Trace Conger
CreateSpace, August 2014
ISBN: 978-1-500-96697-3
Trade Paperback

This novel serves to introduce Finn Harding, who lost his PI license and is reduced to scrounging for a living, dealing with less than savory persons to make ends meet.  He lives on a houseboat on the Ohio River in Cincinnati, has an ex-wife and six-year-old daughter.  Obviously, this book is the beginning of a series.  Finn supposedly specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found, since doing so doesn’t require a license from the state.

One such assignment comes from a man named Bishop who operates an internet site that offers purloined data illegally obtained by his criminal partners.  It involves identifying a blackmailer, who is demanding $50,000 per month of Bishop to not disclose how he hacked into the site and is able to give the FBI all the background needed to prosecute.  Finn is able to name the blackmailer, but as a result finds himself in a more complicated situation, facing possible death at the hands of his clients.

Finn is an interesting protagonist, resourceful, energetic and calculating, although less than an upright citizen as events turn out.  He knows the difference between right and wrong, but circumstances make it hard to be ethical when you have to cut corners to survive.  It will be interesting to see what develops in the next novel in the series, Scar Tissue.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2015.

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Destroyer AngelDestroyer Angel
An Anna Pigeon Novel #18
Nevada Barr
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-2500-5847-8
Mass Market Paperback

Novels in the Anna Pigeon series usually take place in national parks featuring the wilderness as she grapples with the likes of forest fires and the like.  This time, as she braves a Minnesota forest, it is four gunmen who have kidnapped two friends and their daughters while she was out canoeing, thus missing out on the party at the beginning:  The five women originally planned to enjoy a long weekend camping at a park ranger site.

Thus begins a long trek of undue hardship as the captives are forced to travel toward a landing strip miles away where the kidnappers hoped to be picked up by a plane to wait for the eventual payoff.  Instead, as they slowly head to their destination, trailed by Anna whose purpose obviously is somehow to rescue her friends, the reader is treated to a gruesome blow-by-blow account of the rough treatment the women receive and lessons in how to survive in the wilderness, courtesy of Anna the park ranger, as well as how to stalk prey.

The descriptions are graphic and powerful, brutal and mesmerizing.  Unfortunately, from time to time, the author interjects opinions on a variety of side issues which detract from the forward thrust of the plot. Otherwise, this is a forceful tale, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: King of the Dead by Joseph Nassise, The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab, and Dog in the Manger by Mike Resnick

King of the DeadKing of the Dead
The Jeremiah Hunt Chronicle

Joseph Nassise
Tor, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-7653-2719-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In a devil’s deal, Jeremiah Hunt sacrificed his human sight in exchange for the power to see the hidden world of ghosts and all of the darker spirits that prowl the streets. Hunt uncovered a world of murder and magic that took his daughter from him and nearly cost him his life, but that was only the beginning….

Now Hunt is on the run from the FBI, who have pegged him as a mass-murdering dark sorcerer. His flight from the law is diverted to New Orleans when his companion, a potent witch, has a horrific vioiledsion of the city under magical siege. When they arrive, they realize that the situation is more dire than they could have imagined: the world of the living faces a terrifying attack by forces from beyond the grave. King of the Dead, the second book in this groundbreaking series, promises more of Nassise’s electrifying writing that will enthrall readers looking for a supercharged, supernatural thrill.

 

One of the best combinations that has come about with the tremendous growth of crossgenre fiction is crimefighting supernatural beings. Early players—meaning in recent years because crossgenre is certainly not a new thing—such as Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher) and Rachel Morgan (Kim Harrison) whetted our appetites and many readers, including me, are always on the lookout for more, especially those that are a bit different.

And Jeremiah Hunt is decidedly different. We’ve had central characters who can wizard or witch their way through life, or chase down bad guys while in the form of werewolves and vampires and such, but how often do we come across a guy who can see ghosts and all the scary things in the dark and can do so BECAUSE he’s blind? To make it even more unique, Jeremiah actually wanted his blindness, unlike so many who gain their abilities through no desire to be able to do these things. Jeremiah and his cohorts, a witch and a berserker, ought to be kickbutt.

Unfortunately, they don’t quite do it for me and I’m not entirely sure why. Part of the problem is a bit too much infodumping in an effort to bring the reader up to speed in this second book. I appreciate the effort because knowing some background helps when you haven’t read the earlier books in a series (a frequent happenstance for reviewers) but it’s a little too heavyhanded in this case. I was also a little put off by the shifting points of view—generally, I like that but the shifts were sometimes too abrupt and I would lose my connection to the story while taking the time to figure out who’s speaking.

Having said that, the worldbuilding is very good and I like these characters, especially Jeremiah. I’ve heard excellent reports about the first book, Eyes to See, so I think this may be one of those rare occasions when I should have read the first book first. King of the Dead interests me a lot and I think I’ll enjoy it much more if I start at the beginning.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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The Girl in the WallThe Girl in the Wall
Daphne Benedis-Grab
Merit Press, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-4405-5270-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ariel’s birthday weekend looks to be the event of the season, with a private concert by rock star Hudson Winters on the grounds of her family’s east coast estate, and all of Ariel’s elite prep school friends in attendance. The only person who’s dreading the party is Sera, Ariel’s former best friend, whose father is forcing her to go. Sera has been the school pariah since she betrayed Ariel, and she now avoids Ariel and their former friends. Thrown together, Ariel and Sera can agree on one thing: this could be one very long night.

They have no idea just how right they are.

Only moments after the concert begins and the lights go down, thugs open fire on parents and schoolmates alike, in a plot against Ariel’s father that quickly spins out of control. As the entire party is taken hostage, the girls are forced apart. Ariel escapes into the hidden tunnels in the family mansion, where she and Sera played as children. Only Sera, who forges an unlikely alliance with Hudson Winters, knows where her friend could be. As the industrial terrorist plot unravels and the death toll climbs, Ariel and Sera must recall the sisterhood that once sustained them as they try to save themselves and each other on the longest night of their lives.

One of the dreaded tropes of young adult fiction is femjep, female in jeopardy. This goes way back, to the days of “The Perils of Pauline” nearly a hundred years ago and earlier. At times, it seems as though many writers of young adult fiction can’t come up with a story without it, and that has led to a craving for those tales that feature girls with a brain, girls that can actually take care of themselves most of the time. It’s an even greater pleasure when an author is able to craft a story around a girl of, shall we say, substance, involved in a situation of jeopardy.

Ms. Benedis-Grab has accomplished this in spades with The Girl in the Wall and there are, in fact, two very capable girls, Sera and Ariel. The author makes good use of the hostage aspect and watching the girls cope with such deadly circumstances is knuckle-whitening. I literally raced from one chapter to the next and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way. Some of Ariel’s behavior raised my eyebrows and Sera is faced with an impossible choice but I really liked both of these teens and found them highly interesting.The action is intense and frightening and I loved getting to know both Sera and Ariel.

This is a pair of girls I’d like to have by my side in a dark alley.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Dog in the MangerDog in the Manger
Mike Resnick
Seventh Street Books, November 2012
ISBN 9781616147105
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Hired to investigate the disappearance of a Westminster winner, Eli Paxton stumbles into a web of intrigue.

A dog is missing. Not just any dog. The number one Weimaraner in the country and current Westminster winner.

Down-on-his-luck private eye Eli Paxton is hired to find him. Not exactly an elite assignment, but better than nothing. Maybe it will help him pay his rent.

It turns out to be anything but a routine case. People start dying in mysterious ways, a cargo plane goes missing, and someone is taking shots at him. It makes no sense. Even a top show dog isn’t worth that much.

Now the hunt is on. Paxton needs to find this dog to save his own skin. The trail leads to Arizona, then Mexico, and finally back to his hometown of Cincinnati—Where he finds the startling solution.

 

Dog in the Manger is a reprint of a book first published in the mid-1990′s and I’m just so glad somebody decided to dust it off. I’ve been familiar with Mike Resnick‘s work for many years but it was his science fiction that I knew—I had no idea he’d ever written a mystery.

Eli Paxton seems like the typical down-on-his-luck private eye and, in many ways, he is but there’s more to him than that. Whether he wants to or not, Eli cares about his cases; they’re more than just a paycheck. When he first agrees to find out what happened to Baroness von Tannelwald, he almost sees it as having sunk as low as the low can go, a desperate move by a man having a little difficulty making his income stretch to cover his bills and allow the occasional good seat at a Reds game. It can’t be all that hard to find a dog, especially when her handler, Hubert Lantz, is willing to pay a tidy sum for Eli to track her down, right?

But wait, why has everybody who’s been connected to Baroness in the last few days  disappeared—or turned up dead?

Mr. Resnick may not have spent his authorial career writing mysteries but Dog in the Manger shows that he clearly knows how to do it. This book has nasty criminal stuff going on as well as a good deal of sly humor and a true puzzle and Eli is a guy I’d like to hang out with. Luckily, we’ll get to see Eli again when his second book, The Trojan Colt, comes out next June and I must say I’m delighted to know he’s in my future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.