Book Review: Running with Wild Blood by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Running With Wild BloodRunning With Wild Blood
A Moriah Dru / Richard Lake Mystery
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star, January 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4328-2966-7
Hardcover

This is another intense, convoluted and complicated case for Moriah Dru and Richard Lake out of Atlanta, Georgia. Dru, a former cop, is the head of a PI firm that specializes in finding and protecting lost, damaged and at-risk children. Her lover and frequent partner is a lieutenant in the Atlanta PD.

A three-year-old cold case, the murder of a sixteen-year-old girl engages Lake who in turn engages Dru to help him solve the murder of this wild teenager. The more they probe beneath the surface, the odder and more troubling facts, suppositions and cross-currents bubble to the surface. The duo’s task is complicated by the association of some principals in the case with local motorcycle clubs and gangs. Soon, the coiling tentacles of the case engage the FBI and other police agencies in other states.

The novel is an intense and thoughtful look at motorcycle clubs and gangs, their motivations and rivalries. Locations range across multiple state and city jurisdictions and the author has made an effort to illuminate some of the restraints and difficulties encountered when law enforcement pursues cases across state and municipal boundaries. The contrasts between an upper-class private school with all its social niceties and the rough and tumble world of the biker are interesting.

There are several incidents of violence and incipient head-breaking. They are well-handled on the page and will, I suggest, keep readers engaged. The pace of the novel is by no means pell-mell, but the tension is palpable, the characters genuine, the dialogue both pert and realistic. A very satisfying experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Book Reviews: Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina, The Devil in Her Way by Bill Loehfelm, and Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

Gods and BeastsGods and Beasts
Denise Mina
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-18852-4
Hardcover

Alex Morrow, DS with the Strathclyde police, is back in the newest book by this Scottish author.  The twins with whom Morrow was pregnant in the last book, the wonderful The End of the Wasp Season, are now a few months old.  As the new book opens, she is deep into what is referred to as “the Barrowfields investigation,” when a new case comes her way:  One week before Christmas, during the course of an armed robbery in a busy Glasgow post office, an elderly man who was patiently waiting in line suddenly is seen to assist the gunman, but not before handing his young grandson to a stranger, soon after which the grandfather is brutally murdered by the robber, who makes a clean escape.  The only clue the police have is the fact that the alarm system was not working the morning of the crime.  And the additional fact that the innocent bystander to whom the young boy was entrusted turns out to be much more complex than he at first appears.

I have had nothing but praise for the several earlier novels by Ms. Mina that I have read, and would like to say that this newest book was equally wonderful.  But I have to admit that I found it slow-moving and felt almost disjointed, as the several story lines unfold, including rampant control of the city by gangs (mostly involved in the drug trade, said to be worth more than a billion pounds a year in Scotland); police corruption; and a goodly amount of political discussion.  The final pieces don’t fall into place until nearly the very last page.  I should perhaps add that Paddy Meehan, the protagonist of several of Ms. Mina’s earlier books, makes a couple of peripheral appearances here.

I will still look forward to future offering from this author, but this one didn’t come up to the high level reached by its predecessors for this reviewer.  Oh, and should one wonder, the title is from Aristotle:  “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

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The Devil In Her WayThe Devil in Her Way
Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-29885-2
Hardcover

Maureen Coughlin made her initial fictional appearance in The Devil She Knows.  Now, at the age of 30, after being a waitress for nine years, living through a series of unrewarding relationships, and residing with her mother on Staten Island, she decides to become a cop.  When the test for the NYPD is postponed, she applies and is accepted for the police academy in New Orleans.  And that’s where this novel begins, with Maureen serving her probationary trial period under the tutelage of Preacher Boyd, a wizened, jaundiced but savvy veteran NOPD police officer.

The plot, such as it is, follows Maureen and Preacher from her graduation from the police academy through her probationary period. On her first day, she answers a domestic call where she is brutally punched by a man bursting through the door.  While backup officers recover two pounds of weed, while she looks on from the street, a young boy seems to want to tell her something, but is warned off by someone across the street.  This sets the stage for an ever-inquisitive Maureen to pursue what turns out to be a major investigation, including murders, best left to homicide detectives, a specialty to which she aspires.

As a protagonist, Maureen leaves a lot to be desired.  Perhaps it is too early in her career to wish for more and she will develop more fully in future installments.  As a rookie, as her training officer reminds her often, much of what she attempts is none of her business. Sometimes it turns out OK, others, not so much.  The novel starts out slowly, and does not grab the reader, at least this one, until virtually the final pages  The author, who also moved from Staten Island to New Orleans, interweaves various post-Katrina observations throughout the book, reminding the reader of the devastation which still plagues the city.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

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Touch & GoTouch & Go
Lisa Gardner
Signet, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-46584-9
Mass Market Paperback

This standalone opens with the kidnapping of Justin Denbe, his 45-year-old pill-popping wife Libby, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn [who would seem to be wise beyond her years].  The author switches back and forth from Libby’s 1st person p.o.v. to third person throughout, having the effect of making Libby and her family not just ciphers, or “the victims,” but equally protagonists for whom the reader feels empathy.  This is nominally a police procedural about that kidnapping, filled with the expected quotient of suspense, but ultimately it’s much more than that:  it’s about a family which seemingly has it all, from their opulent Back Bay house in Boston to the hundred-million-dollar construction business headed by Justin.

While bringing back characters known from Ms. Gardner’s previous novels, 29-year-old corporate investigator and former Massachusetts State Police Trooper Tessa Leoni and Boston’s “reigning super cop,” Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren, other cops called into the case include New Hampshire detective Wyatt Foster and his former lover, FBI Special Agent Nicole “Nicky” Adams.  There appear to be no leads as to who pulled off this apparently very well-planned abduction, or any motive, as the first full day goes by with no ransom demand or other contact.

The suspense continues along pulse-pounding and unexpected paths right up until the end.  I found the novel even better than I had expected, although I had read and enjoyed a few of the author’s books in the past, and I will eagerly await the next one.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

Book Review: Quarantine #2: The Saints by Lex Thomas

Quarantine The SaintsQuarantine #2: The Saints
Lex Thomas
Egmont USA,
ISBN 978-1-60684-336-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Nothing was worse than being locked in–until they opened the door…
McKinley High has been a battle ground for eighteen months since a virus outbreak led to a military quarantine of the school. When the doors finally open, Will and Lucy will think their nightmare is finished. But they are gravely mistaken.

As a new group of teens enters the school and gains popularity, Will and Lucy join new gangs. An epic party on the quad full of real food and drinks, where kids hookup and actually interact with members of other gangs seemed to signal a new, easier existence. Soon after though, the world inside McKinley takes a startling turn for the worse, and Will and Lucy will have to fight harder than ever to survive.

Whoa.

This is, without a doubt, a very difficult book to read.  If you have any squeamishness at all about violence, teen sex, sheer brutality for no reason other than pleasure, you should not pick up this book. As for the target audience, yes, it is Young Adult in the sense that it’s entirely about high school kids but I really think it’s inappropriate for younger teens. If it were a movie (and, apparently, it will be if things pan out), it should be rated R. That’s unlikely, of course, since it would be difficult to market with such a rating but I don’t know how they’re going to soften this story for a PG-13 rating when it revolves so aggressively around those elements that make this R-worthy.

That’s the very reason I am torn about this book. From beginning to end, the savagery that is to be found on nearly every page is almost overwhelming, to the point of making me so uncomfortable I wondered why I kept reading—and, yet, I did. Partly, it’s because of the trainwreck effect when you just can’t look away but, as tough as it was to read, this is an intense look at a society gone completely to ruin and that is what kept me riveted.

Certainly, there are flaws. It was impossible for me to really like anyone but that doesn’t mean I didn’t care about them, just that this second book in the trilogy allows for no remaining vestiges of gentleness, kindness, courtesy or decency, the traits that enable us to get along with one another. A few individuals love others in one fashion or another but, for the most part, it’s every boy—or girl—for himself or herself. That is an element that’s particularly noticeable, that the girls are every bit as ruthlesss and cruel as the boys. We do get to know a few of them better, especially Will and Lucy, but I can’t say that either one has grown on me much since the first book. Lucy has at least learned to be strong for herself, almost foolhardy, but Will is still rather whiny, although with flashes of being more likeable.

After two books, we still know pretty much nothing about what’s happening outside the school, just dribs and drabs, not nearly enough to understand if anyone is trying to find a cure or even how far the virus has spread. I also find it hard to believe that the parents, who are now in charge of keeping the kids alive, make no effort to identify themselves; just knowing that some of them still have families would give these kids hope.

Most of all, the violence in The Saints is nearly unbearable, particularly because something vicious happens constantly, either physically or psychologically. I think the authors’ point is that, when you live surrounded by such violence, it becomes second nature and you lose your humanity. While that is generally true, we have all heard of people who rise above such a life and that’s what is lacking here, the few kids who would stand fast against the violence. In an interesting if pointless diversion from the usual horrific behavior, one scene, which actually does not involve an altercation between kids, is exceptionally stomach-churning and, to me, was truly gratuitous; as an obvious allusion to Lord of the Flies, it is completely unnecessary to the story and only draws comparisons to that earlier book.

All that aside, I did find much to keep me reading in spite of my reservations and I applaud the authors for making a very harsh story eminently engaging in spite of the gore. If I still had a bookstore, I would be extremely careful to whom I would recommend this but it would most likely be those readers who can look beyond the surface to what lies beneath. This is truly a modern-day morality tale and I’m very curious about what is to come in the third book, coming out in Summer 2014.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

Book Review: Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

Quarantine The LonersQuarantine: The Loners
Lex Thomas
Egmont USA, July 2012
ISBN 978-1-60684-329-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

 

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

I have such mixed feelings about this book that I hardly know where to begin. The truth is, there is a lot wrong with it but I still kept right on reading, couldn’t make myself stop. What’s up with that?

For one thing, for a post-disaster scenario, which is pretty nearly always completely unrealistic, this one is way out there in left field. Here you have a school full of teens that have been cordoned off from the outside world. So far, so good. Why this has happened is at first a mystery to the teens and I can buy that, too. What gives me serious pause is what happens within minutes of the teens first realizing something is wrong. Can you imagine our government quarantining an entire school so fast and so competently? Also, why do the adults on the outside cut off all communication with the kids and why do they fail to provide the necessities of life on a regular basis? Well, I suppose these questions are a large part of why I kept reading—I needed to know why even more than what.

In some ways, Quarantine can be compared to Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, especially in the extreme violence and anarchy that develops and yet…it isn’t really anarchy. The gangs that these 1,000 teens form, based largely on their school hierarchy during normal times, rings true because teens tend to want to belong to groups. The violence is to be expected also when you understand just what they’re up against if they want to survive. The gangs are very distinct and this is one of the aspects of the story I really enjoyed. Each gang has a name and distinguishing colors, each has a leader, each has a responsibility for one or more aspects of life under quarantine, each is feared by the other gangs. There are a couple of gangs that are expectedly in the forefront, particularly the Varsity and the Pretty Ones, but the authors do a great job of building the reader’s empathy for all of them in one way or another.

Another thing the authors do well is come up with details that make the reader really understand the perils these kids face and how they react, such as the way they dispose of bodies and the barter system they develop. Protagonists Will and David are much like most brothers, full of love and antagonism, and the obligatory love triangle with Lucy actually comes about more naturally than in many other young adult novels. I did feel, though, that the extreme hatred Sam has for David is a stretch and Will’s self-centeredness and unwillingness to do his part is a bit much but these elements do add a great deal to the premise. Character development outweighs plot and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I had issues with the way the government/military respond to the situation and with the behavior of the virus, especially how fast it kills and how it is spread, and these are the absurdities that most bothered me in the construction of the story, along with the difficulty I had tracking the passage of time. On the other hand, the pace of the book is breakneck and I can truly say I was never bored. What goes on with the kids is both disturbing and compelling and that is what made me have to finish. Despite its shortcomings, Quarantine is a thriller you don’t want to miss but, because of the violence and sheer darkness, I’d recommend it for older teens and up.

I must admit I also couldn’t resist a story whose first line is “Someone must have bitten off her nose.” Now that’s a grabber if I ever saw one so I guess I’ll have to read the next book, especially if I want to find out where the cliffhanger in this one is going to take us next.  And I most certainly do.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2012.