Book Reviews: The King of Fear by Drew Chapman and The Vulture by Frederick Ramsay

The King of FearThe King of Fear
A Garrett Reilly Thriller
Drew Chapman
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-2591-8
Trade Paperback

A rousing episodic thriller with thoughtful implications for today’s economic world. Smoothly written and discerning readers can tell after just a few chapters that the author has written for series television. The structure of the novel falls neatly into segments with alarm, partial resolution and danger or abrupt cliff-hanger, every few chapters. That isn’t a bad thing, even if it gets predictable.

Readers of thriller fiction and television crime series aficionados will recognize many of the characters assembled in these pages to help the protagonist, Garrett Reilly, meet and best an insidious foreign plotter who is attempting to destroy America’s economy in one massive attack. The novel ranges over the entire world allowing readers to experience both spare and flowery location descriptions and to introduce a large number of unusual and talented characters. Character descriptions with background information is plentiful throughout the book as are a large number of competing organizations.

Lead defender, Garrett Reilly, is wanted by the FBI and the New York Police as a person of interest in the murder of the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. While dodging law enforcement, Reilly goes back to work for the Federal government as the only economist with the talent and intelligence to possibly save the nation’s economy from this massive attack. He leads a group of rag-tag hackers, thinkers and off-the-grid creative young people called Ascendant, a secret government experiment in cyber exploration.

It all has the frightening feel of reality and real possibility. A good solid thriller.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The VultureThe Vulture
An Ike Schwartz Mystery #10
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0476-0
Hardcover

This tenth book in the Ike Schwartz series sends Ike and his college president wife Ruth into turbulent hiding from a wealthy, vengeful oligarch. A huge bomb destroys the sheriff’s vehicle and soon another explosion of a large propane tank eliminates his cabin in the woods where his wife, Ruth, is said to be hiding. Ike and Ruth are believed to be dead.

The cliché, ‘ripped from the headlines,’ is very appropriate here. A ruthless, obscenely wealthy oligarch who believes himself to be the savior of a failing nation, has created a kingdom on a huge private tract of land. From this base he hopes, one day, to launch a government takeover. The kingdom is located in, of all places, Idaho. Martin Pangborn’s radical racist militia has been dubbed the Fifty-first Star. He is the classic case of the public ultra-conservative hiding the most despicable of slimy self-indulgent beings. The intellectual duel between the sheriff of Picketsville and the bad guys is almost biblical in its structure and resolution.

All the characters fans of the Ike Schwartz crime novels will know are here, and they all have important roles to fill in weaving together a host of fibers aimed at entrapping Mr. Pangborn. Pangborn has been at pains over the years to corrupt and insert law enforcement personnel, ordinary murderers, civic officials at various levels, up to the Senate of the United States. So, the plot is tangled, textured and complicated. Or at least the moves to resolve an up-to-the-minute plot are so.

Anyone reading this fine novel who is aware of public affairs in this country during the last decade will recognize some of the incidents and many of the players. Fast-paced, filled with emotional ups and downs, the author has fashioned an excellent and enjoyable reading experience.

As is usual, I received a free copy of the novel from the publisher with no expectations whatsoever.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Wrongful Death by L.J. Sellers

Wrongful DeathWrongful Death
A Detective Jackson Mystery #10
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1477822180
Trade Paperback

This is how it’s done. A murder of a cop occurs near a homeless/vagrant camp. It is winter in Eugene, Oregon, and the cop is on a mission of mercy to hand out warm clothes and blankets. In the next fifteen pages we meet the principal players, understand the scene and a few oddities, and begin to see the complicated lives of several of the principals. The pace is already just short of relentless. And a teenaged girl is attacked in a texted video.

It is clear you are in the hands of an experienced, talented writer with a real sense of how to use foreshadowing, properly set the stage, and embed in readers’ minds important characteristics through judicious use of language in dialogue, and in the underlying narrative.

When a policeman is discovered murdered near a homeless camp, officers react with a wide spectrum of expected responses from rage at the homeless, guilty or innocent, and sincere attempts to discover the killer. Meanwhile a detective related to the dead man would rather be on that unit, but he’s assigned to track someone who is preying on young girls, sexually assaulting them on video and blackmailing the girl’s parents.

Each of the principals in the novel also has personal and relationship circumstances that provide stress and happiness at various times. It all makes for a rich stew with many ingredients that have to be carefully balanced. Sellers skillfully guides the reader through the sometimes gritty and often difficult times experienced by her characters. When the results of careful deductive reasoning and persistent investigation finally begin to resolve into profiles the detectives can grasp and move to conclusion, there are a few times when things seem just a bit rushed.

The novel is extremely well written, has a fine sense of its special location and the characters are all well-defined. This is a mystery detective novel that should satisfy every reader.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter, The Thieves of Legend by Richard Doetsch, and Cabin Fever by James M. Jackson

Cop TownCop Town
Karin Slaughter
Delacorte Press, June 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-345-54749-1
Hardcover

Kate Murphy is a young widow from a well-to-do family. Her husband was killed in the service and Kate has made the decision to join the Atlanta Police Force. Her first day on the job leaves her wondering if she has made an error in judgment and needs to rethink her decision.

Nothing is easy on the first day. The legs on her uniform are too long; her cap is too big and falls down in her face and her shoes fall off with every step. It seems the Atlanta PD could care less if the uniform fits the female officers. The male officers enjoy painting a penis on the women’s bathrooms and the colored women police officers have a separate dressing room divided by a curtain.

The Atlanta PD is full of racism and very few new officers, particularly women, meet the criteria necessary to gain respect. Kate is partnered with Maggie Lawson. Maggie has a brother and an uncle on the force, neither of which treat Maggie with much respect. Maggie tries to give Kate a few tips as far as work is concerned but neither woman feel their partnership will be a success.

Immediately the pair are thrown into the investigation of the death of another police officer. Maggie’s brother, Jimmy Lawson, was partnered with the officer killed and managed to carry him all the way to the hospital even though he was also hurt.

It is suspected that a criminal called “The Shooter” is the one killing the officers. Each time a cop is killed the situation seems to have been set up in the same way. Maggie and Kate hook up with a black police officer, Gail Patterson, who agrees to help them locate a pimp that Maggie feels has some information they can use. The three get the information but more trouble than they signed up for.

Cop Town is an exciting book that is difficult to put down. I’ve read all of Karin Slaughter‘s novels and she has long been one of my favorite authors. This novel is a standalone but I am hoping that I might be reading more about Maggie and Kate in the future.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2014.

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The Thieves of LegendThe Thieves of Legend
Richard Doetsch
Atria Books, November 2012

ISBN978-1-4165-9898-5
Hardcover

Master thief Michael St. Pierre is blackmailed into stealing an ancient artifact hidden several stories beneath the royal palace in the heart of the Forbidden City. His ex-girlfriend, KC Ryan, also a master thief, is under the same duress to steal a second part of the artifact located in a different area of China.

Michael has five days before the U.S. Army Colonel behind the blackmail says he’ll kill KC.  KC has the same kind of deal with the female assassin set to guard her. Michael’s and KC’s lives depend on each being successful. Meanwhile they’ll need to contend not only with Chinese Triads, but with more than one madman. Fortunately, Michael has a couple good friends willing to do almost anything the help protect him and KC, and prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands.

Lots of violence here, and just when you think one of the bad guys has been eliminated, he pops up again like an unkillable weed.

The well-developed characters are brilliant, as Michael and his friends, Simon and Busch, as well as KC prove as they work through a convoluted puzzle. They’re also goodlooking, and tremendously athletic.

The action is non-stop, the plotting clever with a delicious mystery at the center. The setting moves from country to country, from land to sea, and the tension never ceases to ramp up.

Mr. Doetsch, who states he loves research, has included a historical character, a certain Zheng He, in the story, which adds a nice touch and whets one’s appetite to learn more about him.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Cabin FeverCabin Fever 
A Seamus McCree Mystery
James M. Jackson
Barking Rain Press, April 2014
ISBN:978-1-935460-90-9
Trade Paperback

Several terrific and unusual characters. An unusual and intriguing plot line. A not-so-popular worthwhile setting. Smart dialogue. Those are all the good elements of this novel which features one of the most cranky and short-tempered protagonists this reviewer has ever encountered. Seamus McCree is a brilliant financial forensic analyst. He works for a non-profit that offers security and financial crimes examinations to banks and similar institutions.

He’s spending time recuperating from his last violent encounter in the cold winter woods of the Michigan Upper Peninsula. It gets really cold up there. It’s about -40 when he discovers a naked woman half-frozen on the unheated porch of his cabin. Nursing her away from death begins to reveal an intriguing plot.

Now we get to the questionable and not-so-good parts. Everybody in the book speaks sometimes from their personal point of view. That includes the author-narrator. That can be confusing at times. And it sometimes takes the narrative off on wandering paths through tangled underbrush and that slows the pace when we need a little more push, not less.

Then there is the formatting. Traditional rules of formatting say you either indent paragraphs or you insert a blank line between them, but not both. Moreover, in fiction, readers expect indents, not spaces. I suggest, if readers let that and some other formatting anomalies bother them, they’ll miss an enjoyable reading experience. Generally well-written, there are some logical lapses that made me grind my teeth. In the aggregate however, in spite of a lot of murders, I found that my time reading Cabin Fever was worthwhile.

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

Book Reviews: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins, Good Bait by John Harvey, Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell, and Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman

The Lost OnesThe Lost Ones
Ace Atkins
Putnam, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-15876-6
Hardcover

Quinn Colson first appeared in The Ranger, and now, in this follow-up novel, faces a couple of situations that really put him to the test.  As sheriff in a northern Mississippi county, he has to apply not only the skills he learned in the army, but a lot of common sense and a certain amount of diplomatic talent.

First, a high school friend recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan now runs a local gun shop and shooting range.  Colson suspects him to be the source of U.S. Army rifles which turn up in the hands of a Mexican gang.  Meanwhile, a case involving an abused child leads Colson to discovering a bootleg baby racket.  While raiding the place where the babies are being kept before they’re sold, Colson and his deputy, Lillie Virgil, discover that the two cases somehow converge.

As the investigation progresses, lots of action takes place, sometimes reminding the reader of an actual military operation, led by General Colson, rather than sheriff Colson.  The characters are colorfully drawn, and the dialogue is vibrant.  The novel is sort of a cross between an old-fashioned western and a modern day crime novel and reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Good BaitGood Bait
John Harvey
Pegasus, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-605-98378-3
Hardcover

There are two main story lines, and two cases for the cops to pursue, in this newest novel from John Harvey.  The first is the murder in Hampstead Heath of a 17-year-old Moldovan boy, assigned to DCI Karen Shields and the Homicide & Serious Crime team.  The second falls to DI Trevor Cordon of the Devon and Cornwall Police in Exeter, when a woman he’d known is killed under the wheels of an oncoming train, whether suicide, accident or murder is unknown.  Though not strictly his problem, he takes time off the job to investigate it, as the woman in question was known to him from years back and is the mother of a girl who, though many years his junior, he knew and by whom he was intrigued all those years before. There is the tantalizing question of whether or not these two events are connected.

This is, of course, at least nominally, a police procedural, and quite a good one, although the multitude of characters, both ‘bad guys’ and good, were often difficult for me to keep track of.  But of course, being a John Harvey novel, it is much more than that.  That title, for one instance, is, typically of a Harvey protagonist, the title of a jazz tune of which Cordon collects every known recording, from Miles Davis to Nina Simone to Dexter Gordon.  It is also a character study of the lead cops, entirely different from one another:  Karen, a black woman from Jamaica, and Trevor, fifty-ish, with an ex-wife and a grown son from whom he’s been estranged but who he believes is now living somewhere in Australia.  The author philosophizes about what makes these cops tick:  if it’s “the mystery, the need to see things through to their conclusion, find out how they’d been put together, how they ticked.  Wasn’t that one of the reasons people became detectives?” and about “missed chances.  Roads not taken. Relationships allowed to drift.  Always that nagging question, what if, what if?”  Another terrific Harvey novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Watching the DarkWatching the Dark
Peter Robinson
Morrow, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-200480-2
Hardcover

The 20th entry in the wonderful Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson opens with the shocking killing of one of Banks’ colleagues, a decorated detective inspector, on the grounds of St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, where he was a patient.  The Major Crimes Unit, or Homicide and Major Inquiry Team, as it was now known, operating out of Eastvale, is assigned, the investigative team once again including DS Winsome Jackman (“all six feet something of her”), DC Gerry Masterson, and DI Annie Cabbot, Banks’ close friend, who is just returning from a convalescence after having survived her own brutal wounds and subsequent convalescence in events described in a prior entry in the series.

Because there had recently been a hint of police corruption, Inspector Joanna Passero, of Professional Standards [the equivalent of the American IAB], is assigned to work with Banks.  Their working relationship, perhaps understandably, is an ambivalent one, at least initially.  Very shortly, another murder takes place, and there are indications that the two killings may be related.  Another angle that comes into play is a six-year-old cold case involving Rachel Hewitt, a 19-year-old English girl who seemingly “disappeared off the face of the earth” in Tallinn, Estonia, a case that had haunted the dead inspector for the intervening years, having been involved in the investigation at its inception in Tallinn.

The author expertly juxtaposes the lines of investigation, with Annie and her colleagues handling the Eastvale aspect of the case, and Banks the second killing, which appears to involve illegal migrant labor activities, ultimately taking him to Estonia, though he is warned not to get diverted by the Hewitt case.  Following his instincts, as always, Banks is determined to do his best to bring closure to the girl’s parents if at all possible.  A complex plot, carried off in smooth fashion, in a book that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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A Cup Full of M idnightA Cup Full of Midnight
Jaden Terrell
Permanent Press, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-57962-225-1
Hardcover

Jared McKean, 36 years of age and now a private detective after seven years with the Nashville Metro Police Department, has gone, as he describes it, from “uniformed patrol officer to undercover vice officer to homicide detective to outsider.”  Now he has his most important client ever:  his nephew, Josh.  Josh and his sister, 14-year-old Caitlin, are as close to him as anyone in his life, the boy feeling closer to him than to his own father. Lately Josh’s life has been in a state of upheaval, having not long ago come out of the closet and left home to live with Sebastian Parker, known as “Razor,” the sociopath who’d seduced him [a man in his late 20’s to Josh’s 16]. After the latter’s murder a few days before, Josh had attempted suicide, and now ‘hires’ Jared to find out who killed Razor.  No simple task, since he seems to have engendered hatred in most everyone whose path he crossed.  In what appears to be a ritual killing, he had been slashed to death, emasculated, eviscerated, and his body placed on a pentagram, surrounded by occult symbols.

The novel is a cautionary tale of disenchanted youth and the Goth sub-culture, “vampire wannabees.”  I was initially – but only initially – unsure whether this was a book for me, agreeing with the protagonist when he says “I didn’t believe in magic spells or voodoo curses.  I didn’t believe in vampires or witches or things that go bump in the night.  The only monsters I had ever seen were human.”

This is the second in the Jared McKean series, following the terrific Racing the Devil, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Jared’s “ex” hits the nail on the head in explaining why she couldn’t stay married to him, citing his career choice:  “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are. You’re a hero waiting for something to die for.”  Jared is a fascinating protagonist.  Still on good terms with his ex-wife [now re-married and in her ninth month of pregnancy], they are both devoted to their eight-year-old Down Syndrome son, Paulie.  He shares a ranch with his best childhood friend, Jay, now battling AIDS, and his three horses:  Dakota, the rescued Arabian; Crockett, the Tennessee Walker; and Tex, the palomino gelding Quarter Horse. As the investigation continues, several suspects emerge, and Jared’s investigation puts his life, and that of his nephew, at risk, and he becomes even more relentless.  Well-plotted, the book has more than one heart-stopping moment.  It was a very good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.

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Chance of a GhostChance of a Ghost
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25168-3
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the fourth Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious ten-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths.  It would seem that Alison and her daughter, as well as her mother, are the only ones who can see the ghosts.

At Paul’s urging, Alison had obtained a private-investigator’s license, and her services as such are sought by her mother’s own ghostly friend, who wants Alison to find out who killed him.  While his death six months previously was deemed to have been of natural causes, he is convinced he was murdered.  The investigation morphs into a search for the ghost of Alison’s father, who died five years ago, but whose ghost has been strangely absent of late.  She is aided in her efforts by her mother, her daughter, her best friend Jeannie, and her present [living] houseguest, who is a retired cop and delighted at the opportunity to do what he did best, and misses a lot, as well as by Paul and Maxie [who Alison refers to as her  two “non-breathing squatters”].

As with every book in the series, this newest entry contains the same unbeatable combination:  a terrific plot and great if quirky humor [if you like that sort of thing – and I do!!].  I particularly loved the line about the heating system in Alison’s ancient Volvo, which was “roughly as efficient as the United States Congress, which is to say it made a lot of noise but got very little done.”  The protagonist’s slightly bemused attitude toward the apparent fact that ghosts actually exist, and that some people could see/hear them, seems perfectly reasonable.  This book, as were the earlier entries in the series, is thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.