Book Review: Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

Saints of the Shadow BibleSaints of the Shadow Bible
Inspector John Rebus #19
Ian Rankin
Back Bay Books, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-316-22457-4
Trade Paperback

When the Cold Case Group in which Rebus has been working is eliminated, he lucks out by being taken back with a spot in CID, albeit with a demotion.  Reduced from DI to DS, he now is subordinate to his long-time protégé, DI Clarke.  Of course, that doesn’t stop the old dinosaur from acting like he always has.

Rankin introduces a couple of surprises in this novel, the first being having Malcolm Fox, Rebus’s standing nemesis, as a co-investigator working together.  It comes about because Fox is performing his last assignment with the Complaints looking at a 30-year-old case involving the group known as the Saints of the Shadow Bible because they each swore fidelity to protect each other on a stand-in for the holy book.  Rebus had joined the group as a young DC soon after the arrest of a snitch who eventually got off on a murder charge through police mistakes.  This was in the Old Days, when anything went and they made their own rules.  The Solicitor General recently pushed through a retraction of the double jeopardy rule and was looking to resurrect the murder charge.  Rebus volunteers to assist in Fox’s efforts and the two learn to trust one another, leading to cooperation in another more recent investigation involving an auto accident and the murder of the Minister of Justice.

As with the rest of the series, Rebus shines and errs, but his character and ability always comes through.  The author has no need of our praise, but deserves accolades nonetheless.  The complexity of the plot provides Rebus with the chance to outthink everyone, but the surprise is that Fox rises to the occasion as a real CID detective.

Highly recommend.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2015.

Book Reviews: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Bad Blood by Arne Dahl, and The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Watching the Dark 2Watching the Dark
An Inspector Banks Novel
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-06-228397-9
Trade Paperback

Lorraine Jensen, a patient at the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, is in the habit of getting up around dawn when her pain is keeping her awake to sit outside before the other members of the Center are up. As the light grew stronger, Lorraine thought she could see something like a bundle of clothes at the far side of the lake. Since Barry, the head groundsman and estate manager was in the habit of keeping the artificial lake and natural woodlands tidy, it was unusual to see anything that looked out of place. Although the grass was still wet with dew, Lorraine walked to where she had spotted the bundle of clothes. She did not get all the way to the spot when she realized that it was a dead body she was looking at and not a bundle of clothes.

DCI Alan Banks was immediately dispatched to St. Peter’s as soon as the authorities had been notified. Banks had visited Annie Cabbot there during her recent convalescence. Now Annie was due back to work on Monday and Banks was looking forward to working with her again. When Banks and the Dr. in attendance turned over the body, they found that the victim had been shot with a crossbow bolt. Lorraine recognized the corpse as DI Bill Quinn. Banks stated that he knew Quinn too but only in passing.

When Quinn’s room is searched, some photographs were found that placed Quinn in a compromising position. Quinn’s wife was deceased but the photographs looked as though they had been taken some time ago. Inspector Joanna Passero, of the Police Standards Division, is assigned to work with Banks to determine if Quinn has somehow done something that would reflect badly on himself as well as the department.

Banks feels hindered by Inspector Passero but has no choice in the matter. As he digs deeper into the case he keeps going back to a six-year-old missing person case that Quinn investigated and Banks is beginning to feel that there are crooked police officers involved in the old case as well as the current case of Quinn’s murder.

This is a fast moving story that keeps the reader guessing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.

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

Bad Blood 2Bad Blood
An Intercrime Novel
Arne Dahl
Pantheon Books, August 2013
ISBN: 9780375425363
Hardcover
A translation from the Swedish 1999 original.

This was an interesting experience, reading galleys from a book released over a year ago in the US. The original manuscript is even older, the book being first published in Swedish in 1999. All of that is explanation for the difficulties I encountered with this novel. Awkward strange phrases, missing words; are they the result of a less than stellar translation, difficulties with the original manuscript, or is some of the odd structure deliberate? Hard to say.

Still: Arne Dahl is a Hell of a writer. His vision of the world is often dark, troubling, awesome, and turbulent. Questions of good and evil, right or wrong, Islam or Christianity, dark versus light are all here, mostly unresolved. Crimes, the most horrific imaginable, perpetrated on the guilty and the innocent alike are here too in this dark crime novel. It is the story of a highly trained killing machine, a former member of a small elite American intelligence group that operated in Viet Nam. Disbanded after the war, the killing went on and the machine became a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer.

An elite Swedish police unit is alerted by the FBI when a Swedish literary critic is murdered at an American airport. The killer eludes the police dragnet when he arrives in Sweden and subsequent information indicates he must be a killer who has long eluded the FBI. Or is he the reincarnation of a man destroyed in a fire years earlier?

The cast of characters, both in Sweden and the US is varied and excellent. The writer’s style is unusual and well suited to the subject matter, international conspiracy and crime. Add a large element of social commentary about some of our most troubling moral questions and the result is Bad Blood, a tension-filled thriller that is of immense proportions and a not entirely satisfying conclusion. Well worth the trouble.

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

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

The BraveThe Brave
Nicholas Evans
Little, Brown and Company, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-316-03378-7
Hardcover

In a story set both in England and the American West during the late 1950s to the present, the tale is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Bedford. A lonely child with older parents and a loving big sister, he’s an English child obsessed with watching American cowboy shows on television. His hero? The actor Ray Montane in the role of Flint McCullough, the epitome of tracker, rider, shooter and all around good guy. Tom couldn’t be happier when the day comes that his sister Diane, a rising British actress, is called for a part in one of the shows. She and Ray fall for one another and it isn’t long before she’s off to Hollywood and American fame and films.

Then we learn that instead of being his sister, Diane is Tom’s mother. She’s able to finally claim Tommy now, with Ray’s support, and Tom happily accompanies them to America where he learns to ride and shoot, living out his dreams. Until, that is, a violent blow-up brings them all down.

Shoot forward three or four decades. Tom is living now in Montana. He’s divorced from his wife when it comes out that his son Danny, estranged from him for many years, is up for court martial charged with the multiple murder of an Iraqi family.

Since I absolutely hated The Horse Whisperer, especially the ending, I’ve been reluctant to read another Nicholas Evans book. However, I can categorically state that The Brave is excellent, and that I’m happy I received this book to review. The storyline, the characters, the emotion throughout are outstanding and, as one would expect from a writer of this repute, the writing is excellent. Learning about the Hollywood of the 1950s is riveting.

The Brave receives my recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Reviews: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska, Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Catch MeCatch Me
Lisa Gardner
Dutton, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95276-3
Hardcover

D.D. Warren, the Boston homicide detective featured in this widely-read series, faces two challenges in this latest installment: a new baby boy who keeps her and her boyfriend, Alex, up through the night and, now that she’s back from maternity leave, a complex mystery surrounding a young woman who approaches her with the admonition that she expects to be murdered four days hence and she hopes D.D. will handle the investigation. What to do?  How can you undertake the investigation of a murder that hasn’t even taken place yet?

The prospective victim’s name is Charlene, known as Charlie throughout.  She’s spent the past year in training:  running, boxing, and learning to shoot in anticipation of the big event.  It seems her two best friends were strangled on January 21 in each of the previous two years, and logic dictates that it’s now Charlie’s turn.

The plot traces the next days and the events that take place, which demonstrate D.D.’s evolving character change brought about by her domestic developments and Charlie’s preparations to meet her expected fate.  An interesting aside within the sub-plot, which addresses murders of pedophiles, involves a young boy lured into a potential sex act by the user of an internet game appealing to youngsters.  The author uses the technique to tell the story by alternating third person p.o.v. to relate D.D.’s activities, and first person describing Charlie’s.

Not a thrill a page, perhaps, but certainly an excellent thriller, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2012.

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

AcceleratedAccelerated
Bronwen Hruska
Pegasus, October 2012
ISBN:  978-1-60598-379-0
Hardcover

Once the reader gets past and accepts the initial premise of this novel, that there is an almost universal conspiracy to boost children’s learning power by declaring them victims of ADD or ADHD and prescribing Ritalin or similar drugs, then it becomes a heart-warming story.  Sean Benn, a single father (the result of his wife’s abandoning him and their young son, Toby), is pressured to dose the boy, against his better judgment, after having refused for quite some time.

It should be noted that Toby’s best friend had gone into a coma and died.  The school told everyone it was the result of a peanut allergy. Shortly afterward, Toby fell during PT, suffering from an arrhythmia, and ended up in the hospital, comatose.  From that point the plot takes off in dramatic fashion.

Certainly the novel’s raison d’etre is a significant topic.  When over-medication is routinely used to force students to accelerate their ability to learn, something is wrong.  So exposure is warranted. But to raise the possibility that this technique is so widespread across the country, aided and abetted by pharmaceutical companies, while worrisome, is kind of hard to believe.  But maybe such exaggeration is needed to make the point.  And perhaps “worrisome” is required as well.  Written with a smooth hand and tightly plotted, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2012.

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

Creole BelleCreole Belle
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4313-3
Hardcover

The latest adventures of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell read like a massive morality play in 500-plus pages.  The series tales place in southern Louisiana, the bayou country and New Orleans, with all the historic corruption derived from the Civil War and slavery, the oil industry, prostitution and other societal evils.  Dave and Clete are supposed to represent the good fighting the sleaziness.

In the previous entry in the series, the duo suffered near death in a bayou shootout, and we now find Dave in a New Orleans recovery facility in a morphine-induced haze where he receives a midnight visit from Tee Jolie Mellon, a creole barroom singer who leaves him an i-pod filled with music, including three songs she sings and which apparently only he can hear.  Raising doubts that the visit was in fact real.  Meanwhile, Clete is confronted by two goons claiming they hold a marker for a debt he believes was paid off many years before. To further complicate his life, Clete witnesses his illegitimate daughter murder one of the goons.  Then Tee Jolie’s young sister washes up on the Gulf Coast in a block of ice.  An oil well blow-off fouling the environment adds to the corruption endemic to their world.

To say the very least, the plot is a highly complicated series of inter-related components weaved into a long and somewhat tiring saga. The author has stretched his formidable abilities to include wide-ranging comments on a variety of subjects, some poignant, others evocative.  But always clear and concise.  One has to question the violence performed by Dave and Clete in their quest for justice.  Is it excessive and, perhaps, unwarranted?  But certainly it is in character, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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

The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur/Bay Bay Books, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-316-07877-1
Trade Paperback

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels. And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland. Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct. The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-cop himself. When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’s father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care. At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.

Book Reviews: Quinn by Iris Johansen, Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo, The Confession by Charles Todd, The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin, and Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

Quinn
Iris Johansen
St. Martin’s Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-65121-3
Hardcover

This is the second volume in a trilogy [the first was Eve, and the next Bonnie], wrapping up the mystery of the disappearance of Eve Duncan’s seven-year-old daughter who was presumably murdered.  This novel gives a lot of background on how she and Quinn came to meet, fall in love and come together.

Of course, it has to begin with Quinn near death in the hospital from a knife wound, but making a superhuman effort to get out and rejoin the hunt for Bonnie’s killer, aided by CIA agent and friend Catherine Ling.  [None of this is a spoiler, please be assured – it’s all revealed on the book cover.]

I had the feeling that a lot of this book was mere padding, an effort to fill out the three-volume “conclusion,” and bringing to an end one aspect of it:  the quest for the truth about Bonnie’s disappearance. The writing and tension keep the reader turning the pages, but wasn’t completely fulfilling for this reader, having not read any of the previous novels.  Of course, I can’t really comment fully on this observation, nor judge its accuracy.  The book is recommended, but I would suggest that at least the first book of the trilogy be read first.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Fever Dream
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-957-1
Hardcover

In the beginning, we had Alex Delaware, psychologist and sometime police consultant.  Now we also have Daniel Rinaldi, psychotherapist and part-time police consultant.  There, of course, the similarities end.  Whereas the Kellerman protagonist is more cerebral, the Palumbo creation is more physical, in keeping with his background as a Golden Glover from the mean streets of Pittsburgh.

This novel, the second in which Rinaldi is involved in a murder mystery which endangers his life (multiple times), begins when he is called by a Pittsburgh detective following a bank robbery, to treat the sole surviving hostage (all the others were shot).  From that point, a series of events takes place, fast and furious.  In the midst of everything, there is a gubernatorial campaign in which the D.A. is running as a tough law-and-order candidate, complicating the police efforts and raising other concerns.

The complex plot proceeds apace, with scant clues but much physical action, especially a few murders and lots of firepower. The only criticism I have about an otherwise entertaining novel is Rinaldi’s omnipotence, allowing him to merely espouse solutions to the various mysteries without any preceding facts in the narrative (maybe that’s the way motion picture scripts are written – – the author formerly was a Hollywood screenwriter).  Nevertheless, the book is very enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Confession
Charles Todd
William Morrow, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201566-2
Hardcover

This latest in the long-running Inspector Ian Rutledge series finds him in his office shortly after the end of World War I listening to a man calling himself Wyatt Russell confess to murdering his cousin years before..  The man tells Rutledge he has stomach cancer and just a very short time to live but wanted to “clear his conscience.”  Little did he know that he would be shot in the head and left in the Thames in just a matter of days.  Now the Inspector has more than one murder to solve, and embarks on a quest that takes him to a little fishing village north of London in Essex where he encounters many more mysteries.

Rutledge learns that the man was not who he claimed to be, and that was but the first thing he had to unravel.  Then to discover the meaning of the only clue he had: a gold woman’s locket with the picture of a young girl, found around the man’s neck.  Without the sanction of an official inquiry, the Inspector proceeds to develop the facts, despite the uncooperative and even hostile reception he receives in the village where additional murders and deaths occur.

A novel written by the mother-and-son team writing under the nom de plume Charles Todd, Confession is up to the high level of its predecessors: the plot is tightly woven, the characters well-drawn and the reader is drawn forward anxiously waiting to find out what comes next.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur Books / Little, Brown & Co., November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-03977-2
Hardcover

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels.  And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland.  Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith.  They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct.  The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-op himself.  When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’ father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care.  At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Back of Beyond
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-36574-5
Hardcover

Against the vastness and isolation of Yellowstone Park, C.J. Box has once again created a suspense-murder-thriller novel using the natural environment as a backdrop.  Cody Hoyt, a rogue cop who first appeared in Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, returns once again, as he is called in to investigate the death of a man shot in the head and burned in his half-destroyed mountain cabin, later identified as Cody’s AA sponsor, making the case very personal to the detective.

In the course of his investigation, Cody discovers that the murderer has joined a group on a multi-day wilderness horseback trip in a remote part of the park.  Adding incentive, Cody learns that his son is part of the group on the trip, so has to not only find the murderer but save his son.

The author then takes the reader on a wild ride, never once giving much away in clues as bodies and riderless horses start turning up along the trail as Cody, who now is suspended and AWOL from the Sheriff’s Department, tries to close in on the remaining group.  The descriptions are sweeping, the character development deeply absorbing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.