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.

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Book Reviews: The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor and Already Dead by Stephen Booth

The Crypt ThiefThe Crypt Thief
A Hugo Marston Novel, #2
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-785-3
Trade Paperback

Two tourists were discovered dead in Paris’ famous Pere Lachaise cemetery near American rock star Jim Morrison’s grave. Is there any connection between the victims and the dead cult hero? When the murdered young man is identified as Maxwell Holmes, the son of American senator Harris Holmes, and his companion as a Pakistani woman traveling under an assumed name, officials investigating the deaths suspect a link to a terrorist.

But Hugo Marston, head of security at the American embassy in Paris, wants to investigate other possibilities, but the French police and the senator are focused on terrorism. The senator is sure that the woman was a terrorist trying to gain access to the embassy through a relationship with the senator’s son. The American ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, agrees with Hugo but even though he is pressured by the senator, he buys some time for Hugo to investigate. With the discovery of the theft of body parts from a grave at the cemetery—the leg bones of famous Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril—Hugo is convinced that the murder was not the work of a terrorist. Complicating matters is Hugo’s friend Tom Green, supposedly retired from the CIA, who is drinking to excess and spinning out of control. He is tapped to head the terrorism investigation, and his reckless behavior alarms Hugo.

It’s a fast faced mystery, one that draws you in, with lots of conflict between characters. There is that great Paris backdrop and a creepy murderer. This book is the second in the series, after The Bookseller. If you like Michael Connelly and Ian Hamilton, this might be right up your alley.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, April 2014.

 

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Already DeadAlready Dead
Stephen Booth
Sphere, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5171-6
Hardcover

[This book is presently available in hardcover/paperback in/through the UK; hc in Canada now, and in August, 2014 in pb; and in the US as an e-book from Witness Impulse in August, 2014.]

The newest novel in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series opens on an ominous note, with the death of an adult male, found lying naked in a shallow stream in “the rural wastelands of the Peak District,” where the roads have been flooded and travel difficult if not impossible, for pedestrians and vehicles alike, in this monsoon-like summer.

The Derbyshire E Division CID, to whom the investigation initially falls, quite literally has no clues, as it appears that the torrential rains have washed away any potential forensic evidence, and no apparent witnesses. DS Dianne Fry is here on short-term assignment, after DS Ben Cooper has been placed on extended leave since the tragic death in an arson fire of his fiancée, scene of crime officer Liz Petty, which ended the last book in the series. Ben is still suffering from panic attacks, nightmares, and the occasional flashbacks to that horrible event, just weeks before their meticulously planned wedding. He is still, not unnaturally, obsessed with the one person still walking free who was a participant in the events of that night.

A secondary plot line deals with another area death which falls to the local police to investigate. Ben’s relationship with Diane is a famously ambivalent one. She finds herself thinking that “his absence was more powerful than his presence.” But despite his official just-another-member-of-the-public position, he manages to provide pivotal clues and insight. Finally, “when it came down to it, there was the question of loyalty.”

The events that fill the book take place over a one-week period. The writing is less action-filled than it is wonderfully descriptive, both of local atmosphere and geography, and including as it does occasional bits of fascinating historical lore. All the better to savor the terrific writing and character development of which the author is a past master. The wholly unexpected shocker of an ending is a perfect cap for this thoroughly enjoyable novel, which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2013.

Book Reviews: The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp and Drowning Barbie by Frederick Ramsay

The Blood WhispererThe Blood Whisperer
Zoe Sharp
Murderati Ink, August, 2013
ISBN:  978-1-909-34432-7
Trade Paperback

Kelly Jacks is the eponymous protagonist in what promises to be a new series by Zoe Sharp.  I wondered to myself, ‘blood whisperer’?  Is that anything like a ‘horse whisperer?’  Well, yes, it is, actually. Kelly is, as the author puts it, “someone who seemed to be able to coax evidence out of the most unpromising of scenes.”  Now 40 years old, the former CSI now works for McCarron Specialist Cleaning Services, the services in question being performed at crime scenes after they are released by the police.  She’s gone from being the first on the scene for nearly 10 years as a CSI, to being the last. The crime scene Kelly is working as the book opens is one where a woman’s body has been found in her bathtub, an apparent suicide.  But Kelly has her doubts.  And those doubts open up a world of threats, hurt and violence as others try to stop her from pursuing them.

After the wonderful Charlie Fox series, including ten novels, a short story collection and a novella, the author has managed to create another strong female lead with an intriguing background:  Kelly started her new job upon her release from five years of incarceration after having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, still proclaiming her innocence.

Ms. Sharp has produced a complex plot which includes Russian gangsters and the top tiers of English horse-racing, with steadily increasing suspense and a sense of calamity to come as the book races to its conclusion, neither the protagonists nor the reader knowing how it will end, but bracing for the worst: they’ve already seen the brutality of which their foes are capable and suspect that something far wore is still to come.  There is an unexpected twist near the end, and another one I certainly never saw coming after that!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  I particularly loved the author’s descriptions of, among other things, the English weather, e.g., “The rain had peered out into indifference leaving behind dirty grey clouds like a sulk.”  As with all Ms. Sharp’s earlier books, this one too is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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Drowning BarbieDrowning Barbie
An Ike Schwartz Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2014
ISBN: 9781464202148
Hardcover

Ike Schwartz is an ex-CIA operative who has gone to ground and become a sheriff in a small community in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Picketsville is an unremarkable town except for its inhabitants, carefully and enjoyably described by the author. This being the tenth in the series, one might wonder how the town attracts so many really nasty people.

Sheriff Ike and his lady love, Ruth Harris, after, several episodes, have now decided, at long last, to marry. Town and Gown will thus be joined in what, for a lot of outsiders will be an uneasy alliance. Harris is the hustling president of the local college, determined to make it an outstanding liberal arts institution.

Ike became the sheriff with a short-term goal to rid the county of a completely corrupt administration and evil law enforcement agency. But he likes being sheriff and needs must intrude. Two dead bodies are discovered in a local park and the game is on. Are they related, in spite of the time lapse between their interment? Will the bailed-out ex deputy, now back in town locate and kill his primary target? Will the sheriff and his happy band of deputies stem a rising tide of drug infiltration?

The pace in this suspenseful mystery is relentless, particularly in the last half of the novel. The dialogue throughout is snappy, well-considered and appropriate. This is another well-written novel. It survives a few unfortunate political asides and roars to a fully enjoyable, appropriate finale. Strongly recommended, as are the previous nine adventures in this series.

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

Book Reviews: A Wedding to Die For by Radine Trees Nehring, The Demands by Mark Billingham, Viral by James Lilliefors, The Prophet by Michael Koryta, and They Disappeared by Rick Mofina

A Wedding to Die For
Radine Trees Nehring
St. Kitts Press, 2006
ISBN No. 978-1-931206-01-3
Trade Paperback

Here Comes The Bride and this time it is Carrie McCrite who is getting married.  But she is confused about how to have a wonderful wedding but one that is appropriate for a mature bride and groom.

On the advice of her friends Henry and Carrie take a trip to inspect The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Carrie immediately falls in love with the place and decides it is indeed a perfect place for a wedding.

In trying to plan the wedding Carrie and Henry are plunged into a vicious scheme to run a florist and his family out of Eureka Springs.  Certain residents are prejudiced and don’t want Chandra and Ashur Mukherjee, owners of Artistic Floral Designs of Eureka Springs, to continue business in their town.

Carrie and Henry make friends with the two and try to help them out through a bombing and a murder.  Other friends of Carrie and Henry join in to help as well.

But even in Eureka Springs Carrie can’t escape the ghost bride wearing red who has been haunting her dreams.

I enjoyed the characters in the books and the descriptions of the area.  Nehring tells a good story and gives a good description of how an older couple deciding on a wedding might feel.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, May 2007.

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The Demands
Mark Billingham
Mulholland Books, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-316-12663-2
Hardcover

We are all creatures of habit, and Helen Weeks is no exception.   Helen, a detective for the police department and a single mother, stops at a newsagent every morning for her newspaper, gum and some candy.  As Helen is paying for her items three boys walk into the shop wrestling with each other and messing with the stock.  Javed Akhtar, the owner, chases the boys out of the shop.  Helen and the man behind her in the store are shocked when Akhtar locks the door to the shop and pulls a gun on his two customers.

So begins a situation that is terrifying to the hostages as well as the police attempting to see them released without harm.  The hostages are handcuffed to the radiator. Stephen Mitchell, the other customer taken hostage, seems to think that Helen can use her familiarity with Akhtar and her skills as a detective to miraculously rescue them from the situation.  But he soon realizes she has no power over Akhtar.

Akhtar orders Helen to get in touch with a detective named Thorne.  Helen knows Thorne since she dealt with him when her boyfriend was killed.  Helen learns Akhtar’s son, Amin Akhtar, was involved in a manslaughter case and sentenced to prison. Amin killed himself in Barndale Young Offenders Institution eight weeks earlier.  Thorne is familiar with the manslaughter case and had been surprised the boy got the stiff sentence that he did.

Akhtar does not believe that his son’s death was a suicide and he is demanding that Thorne find out what really happened.  Thorne is racing against time in his investigation into the boy’s death.  Two people’s lives are at stake and it is up to him to save them.  But first he must satisfy all of Akhtar’s questions and prove that his son was murdered.

As Thorne investigates, he finds more and more puzzling things about the conviction and the boy’s death – some that will come as a shock to Akhtar.  The story switches back and forth between Thorne who is seeking answers on the outside and Helen Weeks who is one of the hostages.  It is a race against time as the police outside the newsagent’s shop try to determine whether to go in with force or hope Thorne comes up with answers.

Mark Billingham introduced Sgt. Helen Weeks in the novel In the DarkThe Demands bring Weeks and Thorne together and this reader hopes for more adventures involving Weeks and Thorne.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, May 2012.

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Viral
James Lilliefors
Soho Press, Inc., 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-61695-068-2
Hardcover

Two brothers separated by years and miles work together to stop an evil plan to spread a deadly virus that will change the world.  Charles Mallory is a private intelligence contractor and former CIA operative.  His brother Jon, an investigative reporter, is alarmed when a call from his brother Charles is not received as scheduled.  Charles is counting on Jon to be a witness to some event that he has yet to reveal to Jon.

Charles is investigating a lead found in a message left by his father in a safe deposit box.  He is acting undercover, using fictitious names but someone is alert to his movements and Charles knows that he is in danger.   When Jon begins to search for his brother Charles leaves clues that only his brother would be able to follow.  Jon is able to decipher the clues but is still lost as to what he is to witness.

Terrible events are happening in a remote area of Africa.  People go to bed at night and just never wake up.  A whole village is wiped out.  Charles is working against time to find out who is behind the scheme and figure out how to put a stop to it before there are more deaths.

The book shifts back and forth between Jon and Charles as well as some of Jon’s contacts in Africa.  The book is well written but at times, it was hard to keep the characters straight.  The descriptions are very graphic and not to be read by a squeamish reader. The entire plot is not revealed until well into the novel.  Viral is an exciting book that keeps the reader on edge.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2012.

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The Prophet
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0-316-12261-0
Hardcover

Marie Austin was picked up on her way home from school, brutally attacked and killed.  The death of Marie had a profound effect on her brothers Adam and Kent.  The family was torn apart by the tragedy.  Both boys were outstanding football players.  Kent went on to become a coach at the high school.  Adam became a bondsman and private detective.  Adam felt responsible for his sister’s death.  He was to pick her up and give her a ride home from school but instead he picked up Chelsea Salinas and spent the evening with her.

Adam is still with Chelsea even though she is married.  Her husband is in prison.  Adam owns his parents house along with his brother Kent.  Adam has reconstructed Marie’s room to be exactly as it was when she was alive and spends many hours in Marie’s room.

Kent has married and loves his job as Coach of the local football team.  A championship is in sight and Kent is busy preparing his team.  Kent is also deeply religious and became involved in visiting prisoners.  Adam is furious that Kent has taken this road in life.  Adam still attends the games coached by his brother but there is no closeness between the two brothers.

This all changes when another girl dies.  A girl directly connected to Adam.  Adam vows that he will find her killer and avenge her death.  When a person connected to the young girl’s killing threatens Kent and his family, the two brothers join together to protect Kent’s family and stop the killer.  Although seemingly the brothers are working together, Adam keeps Kent in the dark about some facts in the case and strikes out on his own.

The Prophet is a very exciting book with characters that I loved.  As I neared the end of the book I postponed reading the final pages.  I just did not want this book to end.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, August 2012.

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They Disappeared
Rick Mofina
Harlequin MIRA, 2012
ISBN No. 978-0778313816
Mass Market Paperback

Cole Griffin is nine years old and his dream is to see Manhattan and that dream is about to come true.  Jeff, Cole’s father, is a mechanic and volunteer fire fighter in the family’s Laurel, Montana hometown.  Sarah, Cole’s mother, is a schoolteacher.  The family of three had been a family of four until Cole’s baby sister died.  Since Cole’s baby sister died, Jeff and Sarah had been holding the family together with a thread.  Neither parent is good at handling their grief and this has caused a rift in their marriage. The couple is hoping the rift can be repaired during this family vacation.  The decision to visit New York is two-fold.  Cole will have his dream fulfilled and Jeff and Sarah hope to be able to put their troubles behind them.

Fate has a way of changing the best-laid plans and the Griffin’s are thrown a curve when they pick up their bags at the airport. Cole picked up what appeared to be his bag but when the Griffin’s get to the hotel it is discovered that Cole has someone else’s bag.  None of the contents are Cole’s but he is fascinated with a tiny plastic toy jet that falls out of the bag.  Arrangements are made to meet with the owner of the bag that Cole picked up by mistake and the exchange is made but with a small but very important exception.  Cole left the plastic jet on the windowsill in the hotel.

When Jeff steps into a shop and leaves Sarah and Cole on the street the mother and son are abducted.  It seems the plastic jet is a very important piece in a group of terrorists plan.  The group has no concern for the lives of Cole and his mother and will take any step necessary to get the jet back.  When Jeff leaves the shop, he finds his wife and son gone.  Frantically Jeff contacts the police.

The police investigate but not to Jeff’s satisfaction.  Jeff begins his own investigation and surprisingly is a very good detective.  With his son and wife at risk, Jeff manages to finds clues faster than the police do.

The hunt is exciting and terrifying and always there is the fear of what the terrorists will do to Sarah and Cole before Jeff and the police can uncover their location.

Rick Mofina draws on his experience as a news reporter to bring the reader thrillers such as They Disappeared.  The story keeps the reader on edge as the danger mounts for the Griffin family. I’ve enjoyed many of Rick Mofina‘s books.  He always gives the reader an exciting story.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O’Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Reviews: House Divided by Mike Lawson, The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon, Dreams of the Dead by Perri O'Shaughnessy, and Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

House Divided
Mike Lawson
Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1978-0
Hardcover

The reader is asked to suspend disbelief and just sit down and read this sixth Joe DeMarco thriller.  The plot involves a clandestine operation conducted by the President’s Chief of Staff, totally illegally and possibly even irrationally.  Pitted against him is an equally covert National Security Agency operation whose activities and personnel somehow defy belief.

Caught in the middle is poor Joe DeMarco, also an underground tool of the Speaker of the House, who for purposes of this novel, at least, is in a coma at Walter Reed Army Hospital, giving his sometime employee hopes for spending a week or so playing golf.  No such luck.  Joe is sucked into the byplay when his cousin is apparently murdered early in the A.M. one day.  As a result, Joe has to settle his affairs, and along the way learns too much, sucking him into the internecine warfare between two powerful forces.

Once disbelief is suspended, this becomes an enjoyable read.  It is well written, and the plot is tight.  It moves forward at a fast pace, and even the somewhat mechanical conclusion satisfied this reader, and so it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler
Translated by Ann Long
Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-17395-1
Hardcover

This Scandinavian mystery/thriller shows a glimmer of what readers have come to expect from the masters of the genre, but falls short. It is overly long, and in dire need of editing.  But it does introduce an interesting protagonist in Inspector Detective Joona Linna, apparently a relentless investigator who doesn’t rest until he solves a case, always arguing he is right even when others, especially his superiors, do not think so.  And when he proves them wrong, always asks, “Was I right,” insisting on an answer in the affirmative.

This is a complicated story in which a couple of subplots recount the results of an experimental program conducted by a doctor, Erik Maria Bark, who specializes in group therapy using hypnotism.  When, ten years earlier, one of his patients accused him of an impropriety, he was suspended. He questions the results of his efforts and swears never to hypnotize a patient again, but is persuaded by the detective to try his talents on a young boy, now hospitalized and in a coma, who apparently murdered everyone in his family but his sister, who was not present at the scene. She cannot be found, and Bark must try to discover her whereabouts.  The doctor relents, but the ramifications give way to the rest of the novel’s twists and turns when the boy manages to leave the hospital after awakening from the coma, and is soon suspected of kidnapping Bark’s 14-year-old son.

Inspector Linna insists on leading the case to find the boy before he is able to kill his sister or, he suspects, harm Bark’s son, as he also assumes the lead in the kidnapping case.  And the chase is on, with Bark, his wife and his father-in-law, a retired detective, playing important roles.  I wish some greater effort had been made to streamline the book.  Then it would have received a higher rating from this reviewer and been unreservedly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Shut Your Eyes Tight
John Verdon
Crown, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71789-4
Hardcover

In his second appearance, retired NYPD detective David Gurney faces an ever-shifting set of “facts” in his effort to solve a bizarre murder case.  A bride is found decapitated within moments of her marriage ceremony, and there is absolutely no forensic evidence available.  As only a “consultant,” retained by the mother of the bride to find the murderer, Gurney not only faces the challenge of an ingenious adversary, but also the official police investigators who have failed in four months to make any progress in solving the crime.

The novel is not so much as a murder mystery than a “thriller,” suffused with a series of logical and sometimes illogical assumptions that do little to move the story forward as much as to just muddy the investigation.  The juxtaposition of Gurney’s obsession with his craft and his wife’s deep desire to just enjoy their retirement does little to add to the forward movement of the book, except to contribute to its length, which could have been shortened to good effect by some judicious editing.  On the whole, however, it is a good story, enlivened by some clever twists, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Dreams of the Dead
Perri O’Shaughnessy
Gallery Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4973-4
Hardcover

This is a long-running series featuring Nina Reilly, a South Lake Tahoe, California attorney with a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This novel actually arises from some of Nina’s past experiences, including the death of her husband in a snow avalanche caused by Jim Strong, son of Phillip, owner of a resort facility headed for bankruptcy.

As a result of Phillip’s need for cash to pay off creditors, he has agreed to sell his property, but the sale is complicated by the fact that a local attorney has intervened, presenting “affidavits” from Jim, who disappeared two years before, demanding that his share of the money be sent to him in Brazil where he is supposedly hiding.  The attorney representing Phillip asks Nina to join her in representing Phillip in the court proceedings, which draws her into a complicated conspiracy compounded by a couple of murders.

The novel is hampered by various extraneous side issues, especially an abundance of fashion descriptions and undue attention to Nina’s footwear.  Also, for some reason the authors, two sisters, insert portions of a not-so-good “novel” being written by Nina’s secretary, Sandy.  The basic mystery is interesting and well-drawn, but the distractions hindered this reader.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Thick as Thieves
Peter Spiegelman
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26317-9
Hardcover

As standalone novels recounting tales of thefts go, this story of a gang that shows little trust in each other, despite huge paydays, is so riveting and well-written that it deserves a sequel.  It tells the story of Carr, drummed out of the CIA for a temperament not deemed suitable for supervising agents or informers, but has a talent for planning and watching the slightest details during an operation, is recruited to join a band of thieves who undertake grand monetary thefts.

The bulk of the novel centers on a plan to steal $100 million from a money laundering operation running several Florida banks headquartered on a Caribbean island and headed by a man named Prager. It is meticulously planned, but when it appears that prior intelligence is faulty, Carr has to improvise.  And complications also include mistrust of his co-workers, who show no hesitation at double-crossing or stealing from him and the sponsor who fronts costs.  At the same time, Carr has to solve his own emotions about his father and his care as he is slowly dying.

The novel is so well-written and plotted, with a conclusion so unexpected, that this reader wished it would continue.  Needless to say, there isn’t much more one could add to encourage another reader to pick it up.  So giving it a strong recommendation is an easy decision.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Review: Viral by James Lilliefors

Viral
James Lilliefors
Soho Crime, April 2012
ISBN 978-1-61695-068-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In remote pockets of the Third World, a deadly virus is quietly sweeping through impoverished farming villages and shanty towns with frightening speed and potency. Meanwhile, in Washington, a three-word message left in a safe-deposit box may be the key to stopping the crisis–if, that is, Charles Mallory, a private intelligence contractor and former CIA operative, can decipher the puzzle before time runs out.


What Mallory begins to discover are the traces of a secret war, with a bold objective–to create a new, technologically advanced society. With the help of his brother Jon, an investigative reporter, can he break the story to the world before it is too late–before a planned “humane depopulation” takes place?


As the stakes and strategies of this secret war become more evident, the Mallory brothers find themselves in a complex game of wits with an enemy they can’t see: a new sort of superpower led by a brilliant, elusive tactician who believes that ends justify means.

What is Covenant?

Three small, obscure African countries are the focus of a plan to solve the Third World “problem”, a plan that involves biological weapons and the rampant corruption and poverty that plague such countries. A kernel of a well-intentioned idea has evolved into a megalomaniacal assumption that the end does, indeed, justify the means and overwhelming amounts of money have made it possible to accomplish a terrible purpose.

As in any good thriller, uncertainty is paramount and the reader is never quite sure where the dividing line might be between the good guys and the bad. Surprises and twists abound and Mr. Lilliefors does an admirable job of keeping the reader teetering on the edge along with his heroes and heroines. Cryptic puzzles, terrorism, greed and the dangers of good intentions all serve to keep the protagonists—and the reader—unbalanced in this race to stop the horror that has already begun and  that is poised to wipe out millions of lives.

There are some rather gruesome scenes that are not for the squeamish and the author brings the reader into the story with chilling words. Chapters 20, 21 and 49, in particular, show just how high the stakes are and, although they are not easy to get through, they are effective and necessary.

I really disliked one particular character besides the actual villains (who, in some cases, show signs of humanity)  and wish Jon Mallory had had more of a backbone regarding this person’s duplicity and self-centeredness. I suppose we can’t expect heroes to always see through the facade, though; perhaps that character will be more honorable and likeable in future books. Whether or not that happens, I’m looking forward to more tales about the Mallory brothers.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.