Book Reviews: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo and A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

The Thirst
A Harry Hole Novel #11
Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith
Knopf, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-385-35216-1
Hardcover

Harry Hole, Norway’s most experienced serial murder detective, is content to no longer serve on the murder squad, instead lecturing at the police college and living happily after marrying Rakel three years ago.  Unfortunately, such bliss is interrupted when evidence of a possible murder too difficult to solve leads the police chief to blackmail Harry into joining the hunt.  And then he jumps in with both feet.

It turns out that the villain in a previous novel in the series, Police, may be the sought-after culprit, especially when Harry recognizes the killer’s MO.  As the frustrating hunt continues, we learn more about vampirism than, perhaps, we’d like.  It appears that the murderer has a taste for drinking the victim’s blood.  And Nesbo delves into the subject deeply and often.

In this, the 11th Harry Hole novel, the author once again demonstrates why the series is so popular:  a plot so well-developed that the reader hardly notices the length of the book.  And the twist that draws the tale to an end certainly is an added fillip.  The Thirst demonstrates to what lengths Harry Hole will go to solve a case.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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A Game of Ghosts
A Charlie Parker Thriller #15
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7189-5
Hardcover

This is Book #15 in the Charlie Parker series.  In it, Charlie has made a deal with Special Agent Ross and is on retainer to the FBI, and he is asked to find a private investigator, Jacob Eklund, also working for Ross, who apparently has disappeared.  With few facts, especially what the PI was doing for Ross, Parker begins his investigation.  And it leads him into the weirdest of investigations. It seems Eklund, on his own, was involved in tracking down a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to extraordinary events or sightings.

Meanwhile, Parker is also facing pressure from Rachel, his onetime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sam; she is convinced Sam’s exposure to Parker places her in jeopardy.  This belief, reinforced by Sam’s abduction in a previous novel and possible harm, leads Rachel to seek judicial relief preventing direct contact between Parker and his daughter without direct supervision.

As the author acknowledges: “This odd book—if mine are not all odd books—is as much a product of a lifetime of reading ghost stories…”  And it is odd.  And it is filled with ghost stories.  It is an intriguing tale of the supernatural, together with a basic crime story.  It is one fascinating account and well-plotted, bringing together what amounts to a detective story and a ghost story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes and Surrounded by Witnesses by Jeff Foster

hidden-bodiesHidden Bodies
Caroline Kepnes
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8562-2
Hardcover

Joe, narrator and protagonist of this turbulent novel is arrogant, smart, clever and well educated. He is also misogynistic, athletic, immoral, talented and a serial killer. As an adept seducer of women, he travels the nation, expounding on his distorted philosophy, scamming various people and murdering those who get in his way, often for the flimsiest of reasons. He is an extremely engaging modern character.

The story begins in a New York bookstore and ends in a California lockup. In between, Joe rambles both physically and intellectually about the human condition, about relationships and about what he should do next. And he pursues a distorted nihilistic philosophy of life that leads him into a morass of morally questionable actions that take place in often unusual and well-described locations. Yet he is a charmer and as pursued by his chronicler, author, Caroline Kepner, he is successful in persuading a great many people to buy at least some of his arguments and actions.

Of course, it is the skill and talent of the author that helps persuade us to continue to pay attention to this most reprehensible of characters and to give his oft-times hare-brained philosophizing serious consideration. A well-conceived, finely written effort that somehow seems peculiarly relevant in today’s world.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 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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surrounded-by-witnessesSurrounded By Witnesses
Jeff Foster
North Star Press, January 2007
ISBN: 978-0-87839-258-0
Trade Paperback

The novel has an interesting premise: a Muslim terrorist scout team is heading for the middle of the middle west in order to set up some kind of attack. They travel as a family and with typical short-view planning, come down from Canada into the Upper Midwest during the height of winter. This of course means blizzards, disruption of timing and attendant growing rage from the family’s controllers.

The novel centers on the family’s interaction with an intensely rural Minnesota family of taciturn Scandinavians. Swede and Heidi and their children are the epitome of type. Manifold difficulties rise to hamper the progress of the terrorist unit toward their intended target. The novel is replete with high tech maneuvering which at times gets in the way of human interaction and the pace of the novel.

I was bothered by the remote language of the narration, disconcerting shifts of points of view and a few clichéd characters. That said, the story line is interesting, but at 330 pages, this trade paper novel could have benefited from some judicious editing. At times the language including the dialogue is stilted and awkward. Those caveats aside, this is an enjoyable novel, worth a few hours of leisure.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 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.

Book Review: Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durant

Remember Me This WayRemember Me This Way
Sabine Durant
Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-476-71632-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  One year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie Carter, 41 years old, goes to lay flowers on the site of his fatal accident.  Since the tragedy, she just hasn’t been the same, racked with grief and guilt and regret and . . . relief.  Even though her friends tell her she’s grieved enough for her ‘prince charming,’ her memories of a darker side of Zach that no one else knew are burned into her brain and won’t let her forget him.   But as she puts her flowers down at the roadside, she sees a bouquet of lilies at the foot of the tree.  Addressed to her husband.  She isn’t the first to pay her respects . . . but who is Xenia?  As Lizzie learns more about her husband’s past, she begins to realize that maybe she didn’t know Zach at all.  But she’s still tormented by her guilt and the memories that just won’t fade . . . because Zach doesn’t seem to be as gone as everyone thinks.  And she just can’t shake the feeling that he’s still out there, watching her, waiting to claim her as his own once again.  After all, just because we love someone doesn’t mean we can trust them . . . .

Lizzie does psychometric testing for a living; Zach is an artist, although a not-yet-successful one.  The p.o.v. alternates between that of Zach (the first page is his, and though only one page long [before the narration switches to Lizzie’s], it is quite startling, letting the reader know at once what he/she is in for.  Lizzie’s p.o.v. sections take place initially in February 14, 2013, a year to the day of Zach’s car crash, on a Cornish roadside in the middle of Cornwall and 200 miles from her home in London.  She thinks to herself “His death feels real for the first time.  I must let him go, hard as it is, because, despite everything, he was the love of my life.”  The next section, Zach’s, takes place in July, 2009.  As opposed to Lizzie’s thoughts as described above, he is thinking “She doesn’t appreciate me, that’s the problem.”

All the following alternating p.o.v. sections follow those same timelines [Zach’s last ending on the day of his car crash], wherein initially Zach has a significant other named Charlotte, overlapping with his meeting and becoming involved with Lizzie.  All who meet Zach, who is pretty much addicted to Xanax and tramadol, see him as a very handsome and charming man, although he is self-described as being “not very nice” [with which the reader wholeheartedly agrees], and “. . . People like me can’t relax.  We may roam outside the boundaries that restrict the behavior of other people, but we’re never free.”

The characters all come alive in these pages, but Zach is one of a kind, displaying love, jealousy, and vengeance, among other traits.    The ending is shocking, but thoroughly believable.  This is a book, and characters, who will stay with the reader after the last page is read, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents HappenAccidents Happen
Louise Millar
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-5670-1
Trade Paperback

Kate Parker is trying to recover from a series of traumas, and feels she’s not doing a very good job of it. A number of years previously, her parents were killed in a car accident while travelling to her wedding reception, and then more recently, Kate’s husband Hugo was brutally murdered. In an effort to cope, Kate has relocated from London, England to Oxford, in order to be nearer to her in-laws so they can assist with caring for her ten-year-old son, Jack. The family dynamics are difficult, however, and Kate is becoming less and less sure that this was a good idea, as Hugo’s parents and sister constantly seem to question her decisions and her parenting skills. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Kate’s semi-detached house has been broken into more than once, and various valuables have been stolen, leaving her even more insecure and panicky.

Not surprisingly, Kate is struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy and safety. She has become obsessive-compulsive, unable to tear herself away from studying all sorts of statistics, in an attempt to regain the feeling that she is in control. The result is that she is nearly paralyzed with fear from the mountains of information about accidents and deaths that she can’t tear herself away from. Kate can barely leave her house, take public transit, enter a store, or ride her bike. Even worse, she has become so overprotective of young Jack that their relationship is close to the breaking point.

When Kate meets a visiting professor, Jago, who has written a book on statistics and is interested in the field of OCD, she gets the first glimmer of hope she’s had in a long time. Jago offers to assist her by carrying out various experiments designed to challenge her into stepping outside the rigid boundaries she’s created for herself. The fact that Kate finds Jago physically attractive helps her decide to accept his assistance. Although Jago makes her nervous, Kate finds it more and more pleasurable to be around him.

Unfortunately, this was when the book stopped working for me, and I became unable to really believe in the way events were unfolding. Although the level of tragedy Kate had experienced caused me to feel very sorry for her, I couldn’t believe that she would go along with Jago’s odd suggestions, or that a professor would be carrying out such unethical experiments.

While Millar is skilled at creating a tense and ambiguous atmosphere, the novel veered into areas that began to seem unbelievable to me, particularly as Kate was described as being a competent, intelligent woman who had helped her husband build a highly successful renovation business. I thought Millar did a good job in her descriptions of the way Kate was experiencing the aftermath of trauma, but ultimately couldn’t go along with the plot that explained how Kate began to find her way back to health. Readers who particularly like taut psychological suspense might enjoy this book more than I did, however, as Millar consistently evokes a very paranoid, unsettling sensation. If you are reading to get creeped out, this book should do it for you – but if you are reading for authentic characters and plot, it probably won’t.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, February 2016.

Book Review: Empire by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

EmpireEmpire
Book 2: The Chronicles of the Invaders Trilogy
John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5715-5
Hardcover

The middle novel in a planned trilogy about earthling Paul Kerr and his beloved Syl Hellias, an alien female born on planet Earth, continues in separate adventures that keep them apart.  After Syl aided Paul and his brother in escaping from Edinburgh castle in Conquest, they were subsequently captured and given a choice to join the brigades, eventually assigned to investigate a distant planet.  Syl, on the other hand is given the option with her friend Ani of entering the sisterhood on a moon satellite of the Illyri planet and trained to become a member of the order.

Individually, Paul and Syl during their separate adventures discover an evil so horrible it could destroy the Earth and the rest of the known world.  As they struggle with their knowledge they must find ways to develop their abilities and make known the truth of what they have learned, much less to save everything before it is destroyed.

While the books were primarily intended for a teenage audience, an adult can also read and enjoy the novel, which is no less a sci-fi fantasy and what is loosely a love story.  The two novels, and the third yet to come, were written by John Connolly, the Irish novelist perhaps best known for the Charlie Parker mysteries, and his partner and mother of his two sons, Jennifer Ridyard.  This is not the first time Mr. Connolly has turned his attention from Charlie Parker to a different type of novel.  He also is the author of a trilogy for younger readers and even a modern fairy tale.  Now we have the completion of another trilogy to look forward to.  Empire, like Conquest, is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2015.

Book Reviews: Perfect Sins by Jo Bannister and A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

Perfect SinsPerfect Sins
Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best #2
Jo Bannister
Minotaur Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05420-3
Hardcover

In the first book of this new series by Jo Bannister, the highly recommended Deadly Virtues, the reader met Gabriel Ash, in his mid-20’s, “an intelligent, astute man who had once been highly regarded in national security circles,” a well-educated insurance investigator and later a Government analyst before the traumatic events of 4 years ago when his wife and two young boys had been taken by persons unknown, their present whereabouts a complete mystery.

The follow-up book takes place two months later, and reunites Gabriel with Hazel Best, a 26-year-old rookie cop, now on probation after the events which took place in that earlier novel, during which she had saved his life more than once.  As the book opens, Gabriel is accompanying Hazel to visit her father, the gatekeeper at Byrfield estate, the lord of the manor being Lord Pete (“Peregrine”) Byrfield.   Also present is David Sperrin, Hazel’s old friend and an archaeologist who lives with his mother on neighboring property, who shortly embarks on an excavation on Byrfield land resulting in the discovery of what is determined to be the body of a ten-year-old child in a makeshift grave, apparently dead for over 30 years.  DI Edwin Norris is the cop assigned to the ensuing investigation into the child’s murder, and the identity of the murderer.  In the process we learn a lot about British aristocracy, much of it fascinating.

Of course Gabriel’s family’s whereabouts, and the question of whether they are even alive, is always in the forefront of his mind.  Their disappearance during Gabriel’s investigation into African pirates’ hijacking of British arms shipments has him still continuing that investigation.

The writing is wonderful throughout, in particular the author’s descriptions:  “I don’t know what Guy would have grown up to be.  An entertainer, possibly.  Or a politician.  Something where the ability to tell barefaced lies is a major advantage.”  And a shopkeeper:  “an elderly woman with a froth of white hair and the apple cheeks of the terminally jovial.”  As in the earlier novel, all the characters are very well-drawn, especially Gabriel, Hazel, and DI Norris, and the relationship between Hazel and Gabriel seems to be evolving into something more intimate.  The suspense keeps building, right up until the very last page, which ends in a cliffhanger which makes me all the more anxious to read the next book in the series, Desperate Measures, due out in December, 2015 – can’t wait!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2015.

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A Song of ShadowsA Song of Shadows
A Charlie Parker Thriller #14
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1828-9
Hardcover

This latest Charlie Parker novel has a more intriguing plot while combining many of the elements of earlier books in the series.  It begins with Charlie having survived a near fatal gunshot attack, leaving him extremely weak, renting a house on a small bay in Boreas, ME, in which to recuperate.  There is only one other home on the bay, occupied by a woman, Ruth Winter, and her daughter, Amanda.  In earlier decades, a large German population settled in the area, and after World War II an influx of supposed displaced persons arrived nearby.

When the body of a man washes ashore on the beach, questions are raised as to whether he is a suicide or the victim of foul play since he had traveled from Florida.  Then another fact emerges:  His friend and partner is found murdered in the Sunshine State, raising additional suspicion.  When Ruth Winter is murdered, there can be no question there is evil in the air, and Charlie, despite his debilitation, begins to act like a detective.

So much for the background.  The central theme is the post-war arrivals and their link to a Nazi concentration camp.  The description of the government’s investigations to identify and deport Nazi war criminals is affecting.  And Charlie’s efforts to unravel the mystery of the deaths, whether they are related, and if so to what, are, of course, aided by his usual cohorts, Louis and Angel and FBI agent Ross, along with Rabbi Epstein.  Naturally a Charlie Parker novel without the presence of the Collector or introduction of the occult would not be in keeping with the series, so, naturally, both are present and play a major role in the unraveling of the plot, along with the presence of Charlie’s daughters, the living Sam and the deceased Jennifer.  All in all, this is John Connolly at his best, with a most serious story, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.

Book Reviews: Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant and Windigo Island by William Kent Krueger

Under Your SkinUnder Your Skin
Sabine Durrant
Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-1-4767-1628-2
Trade Paperback

In the pre-dawn hours, Gaby Mortimer, a successful 42-year-old “presenter” on a popular mid-morning current affairs tv show, is taking her usual run through the woods near her home near London when she comes upon the dead body of a young woman.  And her life will never be the same.  (I should add here that the author had my rapt attention within those first few pages.)

Gaby immediately calls the police, and they soon arrive at the scene:  PC Morrow, a woman who “looks about twelve . . . small and freckly,” and DI Perivale, of the CID.  Till now, Gaby has led what many would call a charmed life: a successful career, married to a man she loves (although the marriage has fallen into a somewhat imperfect state of late) and an eight-year-old daughter she adores.  But all of that is threatened as Perivale seems to focus on Gaby when some evidence seems to point to her not as the horrified witness to a gruesome murder, but as a suspect, and her nightmare begins.

The book is wonderful well-written and –plotted, and I can say no more for fear of giving anything away.  Suffice it to say that the conclusion is totally unexpected, and the twists and turns of plot are nothing less than stunning.  I must admit that I had to put the book down briefly when I came within about 20 pages of the ending:  An instance of delayed gratification, as I couldn’t imagine what was coming next, and didn’t want the book to end.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

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Windigo IslandWindigo Island
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-476-74924-2
Trade Paperback

When the body of a 14-year-old Ojibwe girl washes up on Windigo Island, a rocky outcrop on Lake Superior, Cork O’Connor and his daughter, Jenny, embark on a crusade to rescue another teenager, Mariah, who had run away from home with her, ending up as prostitutes in Duluth, pimped by a man known, strangely enough, as Windigo.  The windigo is a mythical beast thought to rip hearts out of bodies and eat them, or a vengeful spirit called Michi Peshu, according to Ojibwe lore.

With the help of Mariah’s cousin, a game warden, her mother, and Henry Meloux, Cork and Jenny follow a thin trail to find the girl with little help from other victims of the pimps who are virtually brainwashed and refuse to talk, or a very few others.  What follows is an exciting investigation that leads to the uncovering of an extensive sex trafficking ring, many of whose victims are Native Americans steeped in poverty and abuse, especially in the Duluth and Twin Cities areas.

The novel graphically portrays the squalid cycle of poverty, abuse, alcoholism and runaway children on the reservations and the men who prey on them.    Once again, the author has the opportunity to demonstrate a deep empathy for the Ojibwe, their values and traditions, as well as describing his love of the North Woods.  All this and one of the most exciting finishes recently read by this reviewer.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2015.