Book Reviews: The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn and Hell for the Holidays by Chris Grabenstein @donhartshorn @TCKPublishing @CGrabenstein

The Guilty Die Twice
Don Hartshorn
TCK Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-63161-073-8
Trade Paperback

An emotional, intense, persistent battle between attorneys who are brothers. Jake Lynch is the fictional District Attorney in Austin, Texas. His younger brother, Travis, also an attorney, struggles to make ends meet as the novel opens. Texas is a capital punishment state and part of the novel deals forcefully and thoughtfully with that issue.

The story is not, however a sociological or psychological treatise on the rights and wrongs nor on the social implications of an existing approach to capital murder. This is a bare-knuckle, stirring confrontation between opposing points of view in the persons of Travis and Jake.

The well written narrative switches between a decades old execution of a truly evil and unrepentant character and the truly awful results of the penetration of the modern drug culture into every aspect of Austin’s society. And while the well-defined characters raise several important tragic issues in the investigations and trials of some of the characters, the pace of the novel drives the narrative in relentless fashion through personal, political and even racial aspects.

Readers can ignore the sociological aspects and read the novel as a fine fascinating adventure. Or one could use the story as the basis for thoughtful debate. Either way, I recommend the novel without reservation.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Hell for the Holidays
A Christopher Miller Holiday Thriller #2
Chris Grabenstein
Carroll & Graf, November 2007
ISBN 978-0-7867-2060-6
Hardcover

Snappy dialogue and spare, economical writing characterize this thriller. So why is it 400 pages long? The answer is that this is a marvelously complicated novel with many parts playing out simultaneously in various locations around the country. The essence of the story is the smuggling into the U.S. of a stinger missile with the aim of blowing up an airliner operated by an emerging African nation. The smugglers, naturally enough, are white bigots. The hard-to-read jacket copy invokes the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh. I’d choose, instead, the young sniper who terrorized Washington D.C. environs recently.

FBI agent Christopher Miller, an engaging protagonist, chases the terrorists aided and hindered by friends and antagonists in various local and federal law enforcement agencies. We get a wide range of issues from career CIA bureaucrats to dedicated cops who’ll unhesitatingly put everything on the line to thwart the criminals. The action takes place in several high-interest locations from a championship mid-Atlantic college football game to port-side freight operations, to a major international airport.

Apart from the two principal groups of characters, there’s a host of bit players who are logical, real, and who function almost exactly as you expect they should, given the circumstances.

The development and resolution of the story depend, not only on the plotting, the moves and counter moves of police, but on small mistakes
by people on the periphery. And these seemingly insignificant details are, for me, the real strength of the novel. Whether you buy the basic
premise or not, once in the story, readers will be hard-pressed to find places where they’ll rear back in disgust and say, “give me a break!” Hell for the Holidays is a terrific read. An outstanding novel of its type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum and Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman

Infamy
A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller #28
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4767-9321-4
Mass Market Paperback

This novel is not up to the usual standards of the author.  Usually, the first half of the book recounts a situation which sets the stage for the other half, which, ordinarily, few do better than Mr. Tanenbaum: a dramatic courtroom scene.  So it is with Infamy.  Unfortunately, however otherwise well-written the novel is, the courtroom scene is flat and perfunctory.

The novel opens with an intelligence raid by a secret U.S. Army unit in Syria which was supposed to capture at least one suspect.  Instead, they find the suspect had shot and murdered other important enemy subjects and obtained important documents which point to a conspiracy to evade sanctions on ISIS and Iraqi oil.  Butch Karp, the New York DA and protagonist of the series, enters the plot when a U.S. Army Colonel is shot and killed in Central Park, and slowly a conspiracy begins to unfold.

There are all sorts of subplots and side issues which add little to the tale, except to make it more complicated than it really is.  This reader was clearly disappointed, especially when the author decided to vent his own political views, sometimes crudely or bluntly chastising those holding conservative views.  It’s too bad, because basically Infamy began with a solid idea, but lost its way along the way from front cover to back cover.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

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Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet
A Jesse Stone Novel #16
Reed Farrel Coleman
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7144-4
Hardcover

This is the fourth Jesse Stone novel Reed Farrel Coleman has written in the series begun by the late Robert B. Parker.  And he has kept the faith.  Moreover, he has done something the master never did.  He brings in Spenser to play a minor role in solving the mystery which begins with the death of an old woman, a member of the founding family of Paradise, and the ransacking of her home.

Jesse, still reeling from the death of his beloved Diana in his presence, is slowly drinking himself into oblivion.  But that doesn’t stop him from performing his duty as Police Chief, despite the hindrance of the Mayor and her hatchet woman.  The plot basically revolves around the recovery of a supposedly long lost tape made by a now has-been rock star in time for his 70th birthday party.

Coleman performs up to the standards of the late master, while offering a clever plot of his own, written in a slightly different style (few can duplicate the pithy sentences of a Parker novel).  He gives us a deeper insight into Jesse’s personality and presumably shows the force of his iron will.  Well at least let’s hope so.  Presumably we’ll find out in the next volume in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2017.

Book Reviews: The Sentry by Robert Crais, Stettin Station by David Downing and Damage by John Lescroart

The Sentry
Robert Crais
Putnam, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15707-3
Hardcover

There are many larger-than-life, hard-boiled superheroes, some more believable than others.  Then there is Joe Pike:  A strong, contemplative, quiet, unassuming protagonist.  And his sorrowful and anguished side-kick, PI Elvis Cole, adds a more human touch. Together, they make a great team, and in this, the third thriller in the series with Joe in the lead (Elvis is upfront in 11 others), they come together like ham and swiss or hand in glove.

It all begins when by chance Joe observes two gangbangers beating up a cook in a po’boy sandwich shop in Venice, California.  Killing one ( the other runs off), he meets the cook’s niece and becomes attracted to her, deciding to meet with the gang jefe to prevent further violence in what appears to be a protection racket.  This leads to all sorts of events involving the Mexican drug cartel, Bolivian drug lords, and a psychopathic killer, among others.

Each novel in the series is notable, with this entry among the best. The author has written a solid book, with ironic observations and a plot that swerves back and forth to keep the reader wondering what follows.  He has shown that the series is a long way from running out of steam, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Stettin Station
David Downing
Soho Press ,April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-919-3
Trade Paperback

The chronicle of journalist John Russell begins in Nazi Berlin a week before Pearl Harbor in this, the third novel in the series [with a fourth, Potsdam Station, just out in hardcover].  The descriptions of Gestapo tactics and the beginnings of the “final solution” are eerily chilling.

Russell is ostensibly a correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, allowing the author to describe the machinations of the Nazi censors and propaganda machine with vivid detail, while his protagonist acts as a go-between between German and American intelligence agents, carrying messages back and forth.  He even obtains proof that the Gestapo is removing Jews from Berlin and planning to gas them, even though he can hardly publish the story.

As conditions worsen, Russell has to find a way to get out of Germany, hoping to bring his long-time girlfriend with him.  It is a tale of terror with a thrill-a-page pace.  Descriptions of wartime Berlin and the police state remind us of a period many may have forgotten, but of which we, and they, should perhaps be reminded.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Damage
John Lescroart
Dutton, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95176-6
Hardcover

Readers should not expect the author’s trademark court scenes in this novel.  Instead, it is more of a psychological study about a newly elected DA, Wes Farrell, in San Francisco, protagonists also including Chief of Homicide Abe Glitsky, Asst. DA Amanda Jenkins and others. The antagonists include Ro Curtlee, a convicted rapist-murderer released by an appellate court on a technicality after serving nine years of a much longer sentence, and his parents, wealthy owners of one of only two newspapers in town and not hesitant in using their power to influence public officials or opinion.

Soon after Ro’s release pending a new trial, the question of bail arises; Farrell takes no position and the judge grants it for a $10 million bond. And then the chief witness in the first trial is found strangled and her apartment burned.  Obviously, suspicion falls on Ro. Another murder and threatening events soon follow.  The thrust of the plot is to get Ro back in jail, and the machinations of the cops and prosecutors vs. the influence of the Curtlees.

So, instead of a courtroom drama, we have a thriller enhanced by peeks into the conflicts and complexities, including ethics, values and procedures, facing various professionals in their attempts to serve justice.  Written with insight and flowing narrative, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.