Book Reviews: Dick Francis’s Bloodline by Felix Francis, Phantom by Jo Nesbo, Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, and Crow’s Landing by Brad Smith

Dick Francis's BloodlineDick Francis’s Bloodline
Felix Francis
Putnam, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-16080-6
Hardcover

The second standalone written by Dick Francis’ son follows the same formula that served the father so well:  A mystery set in the English racing world, populated by the trainers, jockeys and track officials. In this case, the plot involves the Shillingford family, especially race-caller Mark and his twin sister, jockey Clare.  When Clare rode a horse that came in second when it should have won, he believed Clare lost on purpose and over dinner they had a heated argument.

Later that night, Clare fell 15 stories from a London hotel to her death, an apparent suicide.  Bereft, Mark starts asking questions, seeking a reason for her death.  What was the meaning of a short written message which the police believed to be a suicide note, but really is ambiguous?  What, if anything, does the discovery of several blackmail victims in the racing world have to do with her death?

The author shows the same talent as Dick Francis for creating suspense, pitting danger and personal jeopardy for his protagonist on the way of solving the mystery.  And the reader will be hard put to tell the difference in the writing between father and son.  It is virtually indistinguishable.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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PhantomPhantom
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-96047-4
Hardcover

In the three years since the conclusion of The Leopard, Harry Hole has been serving contentedly as a non-violent enforcer based in Hong Kong, collecting money owed to his employer.  Then one day, he ups and returns to Oslo when he learns that Oleg, the drug-using son of the love of his life, has been arrested for the murder of a fellow junkie. The police consider the case closed, so Harry acts independently to investigate.

And along the way he finds himself immersed in the midst of Norway’s large drug problem.  Hole uncovers a trail of violence and disappearances, police and political corruption, and Harry himself becomes a target of the mysterious drug lord Dubai.  The novel is a bleak story of damaged individuals hooked on drugs, and the sleaziness inherent in the activity.

The prior novels were forceful, clearly showing Harry’s tortured soul, and his unswerving ability to dig, dig, dig to the heart of a case, honestly and insightfully.  Phantom accomplishes these ends, but to some extent is confusing at the end; whether the author did this purposely or not yet remains to be seen.  As usual, the novel is translated faithfully and excellently, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

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Agent 6Agent 6
Tom Rob Smith
Grand Central Publishing, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-446-58308-4
Trade Paperback

The conclusion of the trilogy featuring Leo Demidov is sweeping, from his early days as a KGB agent to his exile in Afghanistan and beyond. Especially interesting is the Russian occupation of that beleaguered nation and the beginnings of the United States involvement there as Russia lost face in its defeat.

More important to the plot is the intrigue, obfuscation, double-dealing and plotting of the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War.  The story begins with Leo meeting a Paul Robeson-like character in Moscow when he was an agent, and the consequences in the years following.

Tightly plotted, despite its length, the novel reminds us of the challenges of the years during which the two superpowers confronted each other. The characters are real, from an over-zealous FBI agent to the unfortunate victims of those countries’ invasions of Afghanistan.  An absorbing thriller to bring The Secret Speech and Child 44 to a satisfying finish.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

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Crow's LandingCrow’s Landing
Brad Smith
Scribner, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7853-6
Trade Paperback

Sometimes a protagonist has to go looking for trouble; other times trouble has a way of finding the protagonist.  In the case of Virgil Cain, trouble usually finds him – – in spades.  In a previous entry in the series, he was arrested for murder and had to break out of jail to exonerate himself.  In the current novel, he just goes fishing, and lands in a heap of difficulties.

When he anchored in the Hudson River, the last thing Virgil expected to reel in was a stainless steel cylinder containing 100 pounds of pure cocaine.  But that’s what happened when he lifted his anchor and the cylinder was attached.  As a result, he becomes involved with a crooked policeman who seizes the cylinder and Cain’s boat, the original owner of the contraband who threw it overboard seven years previous, and others, all seeking to make a score by taking possession of the dope.

It is a well-drawn tale, with little real mystery but plenty of plot and action.  A well-written story, tightly developed, Crow’s Landing is the second in the series, and definitely warrants a third. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

Book Review: Dangerous Deception by Cindy McDonald—and a Giveaway!

Cindy McDonald Dangerous Deception Tour Banner

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Dangerous DeceptionDangerous Deception
Cindy McDonald
Acorn Book Services, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-9857267-4-4
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Vic Deveaux’s glory days as a winning jockey have ended, but he refuses to accept that pile of horse hockey! When the West family asks Vic to take an easier position at their horse farm Westwood, he becomes enraged and teams up with two greedy stable hands in a scheme to kidnap the West’s younger son Shane. When Vic discovers that his new-found friends have murder on their minds, things turn ugly. Suddenly, Vic finds himself between the rock and the hard place. . He has betrayed his good friend, Eric West, but will he participate in his son’s murder as well? Not content to sit and wait for her men to bring her brother home, Kate West convinces homicide detective Carl Lugowski to check out a hunch at an old abandoned mansion. Soon, they’re trapped in a hornet’s nest of a notorious biker gang. Oh yeah, Vic’s deception has placed the West family in more danger than they know what to do with!

 

Dangerous Deception is one of those books that can be just a little annoying and quite entertaining at the same time and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. While a few issues were distracting to me, they also made me pay attention and keeping the reader’s attention is one of any author’s goals, isn’t it?

This book is the third in the Unbridled Series and, although reading out of order is usually not an issue with me, it was a bit disconcerting this time just in the beginning of the novel. By the time I finished the brief prologue and the first chapter, my mind was reeling from the many, many characters that were introduced, 17 plus 2 horses if my count is correct. As it turned out, most of them played significant roles in the story so it was important to keep them all straight (along with additional characters who showed up later). I suspect many of them are in the earlier books so this would not be so daunting to readers who started at the beginning but it distracted me enough to keep me out of the story for a while. I did eventually settle in, largely because the author does a nice job with characterization so they all stand out in the crowd, so to speak, but a cast of characters would have been helpful.

Two other issues got a little in the way of my enjoyment of this book. One was the overemphasis on sexual attractions between a variety of couples—I especially found most of the storyline featuring Ava to be unnecessary, kind of annoying and largely getting in the way of the core story. The other was the usage of words and phrases that I’ve never come across before such as “lugged” which was used in connection with a horse pushing another horse against a rail but also in connection with vision as in “lugged his gaze to meet Eric’s”. A third usage of the word had to do with carrying heavy objects and that’s the only use I’m familiar with. Another word used oddly was “molested” as in “his eyes were molested with dark blue smudges of fatigue” but also in “more stony rubble molested him”. I have never encountered either such usage of this word before. I wonder if perhaps the author’s definitions of such words may come from a regional influence.

There were a couple of times when I thought a character’s behavior was puzzling and inconsistent with how real people would react in a similar situation but, on the whole, I found Dangerous Deception to be an enjoyable read. Besides Ms. McDonald‘s ability with character development, she has also crafted a very intense tale, one that was hard to put down. The suspense level would be high, then fall to a touch of calm and then suddenly ratchet right back up again. This author likes multitudes of characters, quite obviously, but she also likes multiple storylines and she makes it work. I found myself weaving in and out amongst a variety of unhealthy situations, frequently with that delicious sense of trepidation and, just when I thought a crisis had been averted, something else would come along to shake things up. If you like mayhem, interesting characters, tense plotlines and spending some time in the world of Thoroughbred horses, you’ll enjoy Dangerous Deception.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

Goodreads

Keep reading to find out how you might win a copy of the first book in the series.

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Cindy McDonaldAuthor Bio

For twenty-six years my life whirled around a song and a dance: I was a professional dancer/choreographer for most of my adult life and never gave much thought to a writing career until 2005. Don’t ask me what happened, but suddenly I felt drawn to my computer to write about things I have experienced (greatly exaggerated upon of course) with my husband’s Thoroughbreds and the happenings at the racetrack.

Surprised? Why didn’t I write about my experiences with dance? Eh, believe it or not life at the racetrack is more…racy. The drama is outrageous—not that dancers don’t know how to create drama, believe me, they do but race trackers just seem to get more down and dirty with it which makes great story telling—great fiction.

I didn’t start out writing books, The Unbridled Series started out as a TV drama, and the Hollywood readers loved the show. The problem was we just couldn’t sell it. So one of the readers said to me, “Cindy, don’t be stupid. Turn your scripts into a book series.” and so I did!

In May of 2011 I took the big leap and exchanged my dancin’ shoes for a lap top—I retired from dance. It was a scary proposition, I was terrified, but I had the full support of my husband, Saint Bill. It has been a huge change for me. I went from dancing hard five hours a night to sitting in front of a computer. I still work-out and I take my dog, Harvey, for a daily run. I have to or I’d be as big as a house. Do I miss dance? Sometimes I do. I miss my students. I miss choreographing musicals, but I love my books and I love sharing them with you.

Connect with Cindy:

Website:  www.cindymcwriter.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/THE-UNBRIDLED-SERIES/234151313271418

Twitter: @cindymcdonald7

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=69379662&trk=tab_pro

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5264796.Cindy_McDonald

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Book Review: Shedrow by Dean M. DeLuke

Shedrow
Dean M. DeLuke
Grey Swan Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-9800-377-6-0
Hardcover

First things first:  A “shedrow” is “a row of a dozen or so individual [horse] stalls facing a walkway.”  That tidbit known, I would imagine, by those familiar with horse farms was only one of many picked up while immersed in this debut novel by Dean DeLuke who, like his protagonist, Dr. Anthony Gianni, combines ownership of thoroughbred horses with life as a doctor with an impressive c.v.:  a specialty in oral and maxillofacial surgery [including plastic surgery], also having done a stint in a hospital in England as well as volunteer work as a medical missionary.

Dr. Gianni has only recently come to find both peace and excitement at the racetrack as the book opens:  “. . . of late he had abandoned the seascapes in favor of the training track.  Once inside those gates [in Saratoga Springs, New York], he felt as though he were a million miles from the hustle of Manhattan and the frenzy of a big city emergency room.”  He is moved to purchase a share of the ownership of a two-year-old horse which particularly captivates him.

There is much here of both aspects of Dr. Gianni’s life, both in his hospital surgeries and volunteer work in the poorest area of a small Caribbean island nation, as well as of horseracing and the seamier aspects of a world where the life, health and death of magnificent animals can mean millions of dollars won or lost.  The reader is taken to places as divergent as New York City, encountering crime bosses in Newark, New Jersey and all that that implies, and horse farms in Lexington, Kentucky, as well as racetracks around the country.  When the mafia intervenes, things turn ugly, and threats are made against the human and animal inhabitants of the book.  The novel is well-written and suspenseful, and is satisfying in terms of both a medical thriller and the excitement, and sometimes the dangers, inherent in horseracing.

Mr. DeLuke’s writing has been called a combination of Dick Francis and Robin Cook, something with which I would have to agree.  The mantle heretofore worn by Mr. Francis may indeed soon have a new owner.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2010.