Book Reviews: The Famous and the Dead by T. Jefferson Parker, The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly, Ratlines by Stuart Neville, and The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton

The Famous and the DeadThe Famous and the Dead
T. Jefferson Parker
Dutton, April 2013
ISBN 978-0-525-95317-3
Hardcover

This sixth novel in the Charlie Hood series brings it to a conclusion, sort of.  A lot of loose ends are wrapped up as the story meanders back and forth, recounting various topics from the illegal flow of guns and drugs along the U.S.-Mexican border to the accompanying cartel violence.  And, of course, there is a final confrontation between and among Charlie, Bradley Jones and Mike Finnegan.

The plot, such as it is, follows Charlie’s work as an ATF agent working undercover to nab the men who buy and sell the illegal firearms which enable the escalating violence on both sides of the border.  Meanwhile, Jones awaits the birth of his son and hopes to recapture the affection of his wife Erin.  And Charlie, who knows all of Bradley’s secrets, has to decide what to do with this information.  And his obsession with Mike Finnegan consumes him and can cost him his love, Beth.

Written with the author’s straightforward, but somewhat dry, style, this concluding novel in the series is not a particularly easy or enjoyable read.  It is slow, often repetitious, especially when past events are recounted.  The characters, of course, have been and continue to be memorable.  However, this reader, at least, had to struggle through the 371 pages and was not particularly enthralled by the conclusion.  Probably the only reason to recommend the novel would because it brings a noteworthy series to a final end, by an author who is a craftsman.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

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The Wrath of AngelsThe Wrath of Angels
A Charlie Parker Thriller

John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4767-0302-2
Hardcover

This 11th novel in the Charlie Parker series carries the reader deep into the surrealistic world the author once again creates.  And brings back two of the Maine detective’s betes noir:  the Collector and Brightman, the latter coming back in the form of a child after Charlie shot him to death in a different form. Of course, Angel and Louis, as well as Rabbi Epstein, get to play roles as well.

It all begins when two hunters discover a plane which had crashed in the Maine northern woods, in which are found lots of cash and a satchel containing lists of names.  And a race begins among various opposing forces to discover the lists with Charlie in the middle, prompted by the story the daughter of one of the hunters tells him which she had learned from her dying father.

The author’s ability to make the supernatural aspects of his tales almost believable defies the imagination.  The lists contain the names of people who have made a deal with the devil.  The woods are inhabited by a spectral young girl seeking to lure other bodies to keep her company.  The forces of evil are represented by fallen angels.  There is the Collector, who sits in judgment of those he would take out of circulation.  And there is always Charlie, supposedly on the side of justice.  Quite a tale, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

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RatlinesRatlines
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95204-4
Hardcover

Starting with the historical fact that many Nazi war criminals escaped after World War II with fortunes stolen from their victims and became ensconced in various countries like Franco’s Spain, Peron’s Argentina and anti-British Ireland, Stuart Neville has created a first-rate mystery.  The protagonist is a Lieutenant in the Directorate of Intelligence, Albert Ryan, who lied about his age to enlist in the British army and fought in the European theater, Egypt and Korea before returning home.

Ryan is asked at the behest of the Minister of Justice to investigate the murder of a German national, weeks before a pending visit by Pres. John F. Kennedy because he fears the publicity might force cancellation of the trip.  The authorities are desirous of hiding the fact that the country is providing sanctuary to a bunch of Nazis.  Ryan’s efforts become more complicated than a mere murder investigation, and thereby hangs one helluva tale.

The title refers to escape routes by which Nazis were able to travel, avoiding detection, and the methods used to finance their travels to and establishment in new locations.  While based on historical fact, more important is the plot, which twists and turns in wholly unexpected directions.  And the character study of Ryan is deep and penetrating.  Another top-notch novel from this author, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2013.

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The Disciple of Las VegasThe Disciple of Las Vegas
Ian Hamilton
Picador, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-250-03193-8
Trade Paperback

Many years ago, around the time of the dot-com boom, an idea occurred to me for a different type of protagonist:  a security analyst who applied his/her talents to solving financial crimes.  So it was with great anticipation that I approached this novel, in which Ava Lee, a forensic accountant, works to recover funds fraudulently stolen from her clients.  After all, there isn’t too much difference between what an accountant and a security analyst does:  Both study the books of companies and work with numbers.

Unfortunately, Ms. Lee not once in this novel performs such duties.  Instead she works to recover funds by cajoling perpetrators or using strong-arm tactics or other types of pressure.  The plot is relatively simple:  The younger brother of a Filipino billionaire loses more than $60 million of company funds playing poker on the internet, having been cheated by the two men running the site.

Despite my disappointment that my vision of a more technically oriented approach to the subject does not come to pass, this novel moves along at a brisk pace and is enjoyable on its own level.  Ava is resourceful, shrewd, and capable in more ways than one.  Perhaps questionable is why the author chose to make her gay, but that is relatively unimportant unless it comes to play a role in succeeding books following this debut.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2013.

Book Reviews Ted Feit-Style

Iron River
T. Jefferson Parker
NAL, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23242-7
Trade Paperback,

A temporary assignment to an ATFE task force for Deputy sheriff Charlie Parker to stem the tide of illegal arms and money flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border gives rise to eerie insights into law enforcement from San Diego to Corpus Christie and, in addition, how cutthroat the drug lords can be, as well as how unscrupulous legal and illegal gun dealers are.

To begin with, a stakeout on a gun deal goes wrong, and in the shooting of a perpetrator which ensues, the son of the ruthless head of a cartel is killed, resulting in a vengeance kidnapping and torture of an AFTE operative, leading in turn to a rescue mission by Charlie and his new associates.  Then that operative is kidnapped a second time from the hospital by a rival organization, and Charlie again has to go to Mexico to ransom him and bring him back across the border, dodging the first drug lord’s minions.

The title is derived from the corridor running along the southern border, from California to Texas.  Up to 90 per cent of the guns in Mexico, where about 15,000 persons have been murdered, are said to come from the United States.  This is hardly the ideal for a Good Neighbor Policy. Mr. Parker has thoroughly researched the subject, which brings back Charlie Hood for a third and welcome appearance in a well-written and exciting novel.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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The Confession
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52804-7
Hardcover

The author is on the Board of Directors of the Innocence Project in New York and is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the U. of Miss.  A well-known attorney and best-selling novelist, the conviction and scheduled execution of an innocent man fall within his purview in these various activities.  It is too bad, however, that the resulting novel is not up to his usual standard.

The arrest, jailing and eventual execution of a young innocent Texan sets the stage for a long, dry story, filled with stereotypes: the less-than-ethical police detective, the corrupt DA and his lover, the judge, and the real murderer, among others, including the defense attorney. Unfortunately they do not add up to an accomplished novel. Nor do the long harangues and long-winded diatribes, which obviously belong more in a legal brief than a novel.

All this is not to take away from Mr. Grisham’s ability to tell a tale and write it well.  But, unfortunately, over-all, at least to this reader, he should have relied more on his ability as a novelist, than as an advocate for a cause.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Red Herring
Archer Mayor
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-38193-6
Hardcover

This long-running series featuring Joe Gunther and his team at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation has been consistently excellent.  And this, the 21st entry, is of similar high quality with an inventive plot:  Three murders are committed, seemingly with no connection, except for a single drop of blood.  The victims are apparently unrelated and the evidence at each scene appears to be, at best, confusing, as if the crime scenes were deliberately arranged so that forensics would not be particularly useful in the investigation.

The Vermont forensics department, with limited resources and funds, is unable to process the few items of interest, but the suggestion that the Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York’s Long Island might have the ability to find clues is followed, resulting in a series of possibilities that, with  old-fashioned police work, lead to common threads.

Once again, the author’s love of the Green State, its environment and people, provides a human touch to an otherwise macabre tale. Descriptions of the countryside are adept.  And insights into antagonism between politicians, the public, the media and cops are vivid and insightful.  Written with a deft touch, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Collusion
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-855-4
Hardcover

This follow-up to the highly praised The Ghosts of Belfast deserves the same reception.  It picks up where the earlier noir ended, carrying forth the characters and events, and, presumably, planting the seeds for a third novel which hopefully will develop into a full-blown series.

Jack Lennon, a Catholic detective in an otherwise Protestant police force in Northern Ireland, is warned off investigating the deaths of three persons associated with the massacre of numerous criminals and politicians at Bull O’Kane’s farm in Belfast.  But having knowledge of the event, at which his girlfriend, Marie McKenna, and their young daughter, Ellen were present, pressures him to continue pursuing knowledge of the murders and their relationship to the past.  Marie was whisked away from the massacre by the notorious killer, Fegan, and into hiding, promising to return whenever she needed protection.  He leaves for New York City for adventures of his own.

O’Kane has a grudge against Fegan and employs The Traveler, a killer of equal stature to Fegan, to kill the three victims as well as his nemesis, who was responsible for a gut wound which incapacitated the gangster.  When Marie comes out of hiding to visit her dying father, she and the child are abducted, serving as lures to draw Fegan out of hiding and resulting in an unlikely collaboration between Lennon and Fegan to rescue Marie and Ellen.

The novel develops the characters in more depth than was exhibited in “Belfast,” and the pace is steadier.  But the writing is the same tense hard-driven prose which made the first so highly readable.  It is a graphic tale of the corruption between the politicians, criminals, British authorities and others in the fraught Northern Ireland of the era.  It is powerful and tragic, with intense violence and deep insights into a country still affected by long-continued terror.  It is highly recommended, and we look forward to the hoped-for sequel.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Skin
Mo Hayder
Grove Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4517-8
Trade Paperback

There are all kinds of protagonists, but the two featured in this novel (after first appearing in Ritual) are very different.   Jack Caffery and Phoebe (“Flea”) Marley carry pretty heavy baggage from their past, but they get the job done somehow in this thrilling police procedural, despite their individual quirks and iconoclastic attitudes.

DI Caffery is engaged in two separate investigations which somehow become intertwined with an escapade in which Flea is involved.  As a result, he has to weigh whether or not to expose Flea’s efforts or to keep silent.  One case involves a series of strange deaths, initially thought to be suicides, although Caffery believes them to be murders. Another has to do with a missing person, a woman who may or may not also be such a victim, but no body has been found.

Marley is a police diver and the descriptions of her efforts, especially in the opening scene, are especially gripping, as Flea is seeking the body of the MisPer in a flooded quarry, diving deeper and deeper beyond recommended depths and apparently seeing a supernatural sight.  Both she and Caffery think there is a “Tokoloshe” in the area, a creature out of African witchcraft.

This sequel is so tightly written and absorbing one can hope that the author can follow up with more such unusual efforts in the future. Recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the author’s newest book, Gone, was published simultaneously by Atlantic Monthly Press in hardcover.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.