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 Review: Playing the Hand She's Dealt by David Fingerman

Playing The Hand She’s Dealt
David Fingerman
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
ISBN 9781603183352
Trade Paperback

What’s the common denominator of a one-eyed Rottweiler, a blonde wig, Texas Hold ‘Em, and a man who’s attracted to his married half sister? They’re all part of David Fingerman’s latest Louise Miller thriller. Add in a determined investigator, a caring girlfriend, and a sadistic killer, and Playing The Hand She’s Dealt is a mystery I wanted to read in one sitting.

Walter Farkos is murdered and places the body in the newly purchased house of former Minneapolis police officer Louise Miller. Then the killer sets fire to Miller’s neighbor’s house and murders another neighbor. Who is trying to destroy Miller? One of the partners in Farkos’ investment firm? Walter’s son? Wife? Daughter or son in-law? Also why would this person be trying to frame Louise who has enough problems of her own dealing with moving into new house with her girlfriend, a gambling addiction, and pressure to return to the police force?

With quick action and likeable characters, Fingerman touches upon the addiction of gambling and some of the pressures suffered. This story has some tight writing and portrays several characters as prospective suspects. I knew when a major revelation was made I still had some surprises left. This one satisfied my need for a satisfying mystery and interested enough to keep an eye out for the next Louise Miller adventure.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Night Game by Carol Davis Luce

Night Game
Carol Davis Luce
Revised edition December 2011
Kindle e-book
Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/7xgjjjq
Also available in used bookstores as a mass market paperback from Zebra, 1996

I don’t read suspense very often and there’s a reason for that… if done right, I’m up late, biting my nails, turning pages, unable to sleep until I get to the end. Night Game is that kind of book and Carol Davis Luce has a winner with both wonderful characters and a slimy bad guy whose quirks are a house of horrors all his own.  This is a very satisfying read. Full of interesting, behind the scenes facts and stories of the Nevada gambling scene that only comes from hard research.

Enter Kasey Atwood, a self-employed “spotter” whose talent at spotting cheats and thieves saves thousands for the casino and store owners who hire her services on a job per job basis. Kasey lives outside Reno, Nevada in a renovated garage on the dwindling acreage that might or might not be her heritage. Her mom, ever the optimist, struggles to make ends meet after divorcing her drunk husband and dealing with the upkeep of the big old rambling house full of boarders.

An old friend whose advantageous marriage to a wealthy hotel/casino owner looks like the ticket she needs to help with those bills, but the plot thickens when an elderly woman is found dead in her hotel room. Kasey, asked to take a look at the room where the woman died, sees a clue, asks the right questions, and what looks like an accidental death is revealed to be a homicide. I like it that she’s clever and smart. Yeah, she’s got issues, but she soldiers on throughout the book, and never lets us, the readers, down.

Another death in the hotel, then threats to the owner, his wife, and the fears and tempers escalate to a boiling point. And, into the mix, Kasey finds that not only is she still attracted to the handsome hotel owner who is also her friend’s husband, he’s feeling much the same towards her.

As in any really good suspense novel, we see the tension raised in every scene: between Kasey and the murderer it escalates until it becomes personal, and then there’s Kasey and the hotel owner and whether or not their attraction will ever become reality.

The author does the suspense just right, but she’s also given the reader a mystery to solve: Who’s behind the out-of-control mad man? I think you’ll be surprised. I know I was.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, January 2012.