Book Review: The Hidden Key by David E. Grogan

The Hidden Key
A Steve Stilwell Thriller #3
David E. Grogan
Camel Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-580-2
Trade Paperback

Having never read David E. Grogan’s previous books, when I finished this one, I read reviews of Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.  Having done so I discovered I am definitely in a minority when it comes to Grogan’s books.  Praise for those previous stories abounds but I just could not get on board (no pun intended).  I found both the story and the writing not even close to believable including his use of verbs that just did not match the emotions being communicated.

The Hidden Key begins with two men breaking into the home of a former Navy Seabee looking for an artifact, a clay tablet stolen from Iraq, that he advertised for sale on the internet.  Unbelievable violence ensues when the Seabee denies any knowledge of the artifact.  This is just the beginning of the body count.

About a week later Steve Stilwell, a lawyer in Virginia and a retired Navy JAG officer, meets a prospective client for dinner in London, having been contacted by the man and asked to join him in London as soon as possible.  The prospective client wants to hire Stilwell to probate his estate in the US.  As they are discussing the matter, two armed men enter the restaurant and the client ends up dead.  Stilwell later discovers that the client has wills in the US, India, and Italy but his job involves only the one in the US.  However, in addition to his will, the client has  left specific instructions as to how cash he left in a safe deposit box was to be distributed and where he was to be buried, specifying that his wife in India might not agree to either but he wanted his wishes honored.

Of course, the man’s wife needed to be informed of these instructions so Stilwell’s law partner, Casey, a former Army helicopter pilot, is dispatched to India to meet with her.  Despite a warm welcome from the woman, Casey ends up being attacked after their meeting.  Meanwhile, Stilwell has gone to Italy to meet with his client’s mistress where, perhaps you guessed it, more violence and murders ensue.  Meanwhile, the artifact that started this whole venture has been found, then lost, then found again.  It turns out that the artifact is a map to the Garden of Eden.  And, oh yes, the FBI, New Scotland Yard, and the Italian Carabinieri (because of a heist of the Shroud of Turin) are also involved.

Because I found this book beyond fantastical, I cannot recommend it but if you liked Grogan’s previous books you will probably like this one too.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Review: The Last Good Man by A.J. Kazinski

The Last Good Man
A. J. Kazinski
Scribner Book Company, March 2012
ISBN 9781451640755
Hardcover

Are you a good person? You may not even realize just how good you are, but if you have helped people, maybe helped save a lot of lives, you could be one of a select few in this world to help save humanity. You don’t have to be famous or even popular, but if you are one of the good, then you may pay a price…you will die.

A series of deaths is noticed and researched by an Italian policeman. His contacts draw the attention of the Copenhagen police chief. He in turn gives the assignment to warn the good people of Copenhagen of a possible serial killer to hostage negotiator Neils Bentzon. The assignment is meant to keep Bentzon from causing problems during the chaotic climate conference that Denmark is hosting. In his search for ‘good’ people, he encounters a former astrophysicist name Hannah Lund. Together, they unravel the pattern of the 34 deaths and determine there are two more people who will die. The entire matter is related to ancient Jewish writings regarding God’s righteous. Bentzon and Lund find themselves in a race against time to find the last two good people on earth. Just what they will discover will change both of their lives.

This is a fascinating, complex, and awe inspiring book. Part mystery, part history, part supernatural, this one has it all. Each chapter gives you a little bit more, takes you a little deeper with unique, well-developed characters I really cared about. Bentzon with his phobia of travel and Lund with her depression over the down spiral of her life. The Italian policeman and his dying mother. This book will make you think about who you are, what the world is about, at the same time remaining a great read.

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

Book Reviews: Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Did Not Finish by Simon Wood, The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, and Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman

Twice a Spy
Keith Thomson
Doubleday, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53079-8
Hardcover

This sequel has more action packed between the covers than a fast-paced hockey game.  Charlie Clark and his father, Drummond [who suffers from the ups and downs of Alzheimer’s], find themselves in Geneva on the lam.  They fled the U.S. facing criminal charges and while in Switzerland, Drummond is being treated with an experimental drug, which seems to be helping reduce the effects of his disease..

All of which has little to do with events that ensue.  To begin with, Charlie’s lover, Alice, is kidnapped to force the Clarks to reveal where an atomic device is located, in return for her release.  Then the action gets underway at an unbelievable pace, vaulting Charlie into a whirlwind of activity to frustrate the bad guy but save his girlfriend.

The tale takes us from Europe to the Caribbean and various points in the U.S. from Langley to the Gulf Coast, with the Clarks fighting not only terrorists, but the CIA, Secret Service, and everyone in between. The plot moves at an incredibly rapid rate, if somewhat implausibly. Nevertheless, it’s an easy and entertaining read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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

Only Time Will Tell
Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin’s Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53955-9
Hardcover

This aptly titled novel is the prelude to a series entitled The Clifton Chronicles, covering the lives of several characters over the span of a century.  In the hands of the author, Jeffrey Archer, it follows the life of the main character, Harry Clifton, from his birth shortly after World War I to just short of WWII with more curves than a talented big league pitcher.

The story is told in succeeding chapters from the point of view of various persons, each contributing some insight into the questions raised in the last summation.  It takes Harry from a fatherless tot to a school truant to a talented choir singer and his education right up to his acceptance at Oxford.  Meanwhile his life becomes complicated as he grows up by virtue of his background:  the mystery of his father’s death, his mother’s struggles to support him, his questionable parentage.

No comment is necessary regarding Mr. Archer’s ability to write a solid story, and to end it in cliffhanger fashion so readers will look forward to the sequel.  It remains to be seen how ingenious he can be in the next book in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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

Did Not Finish
Simon Wood
Crème de la Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78029-007-2
Hardcover

The advice usually given to authors (and would-be authors) is to write what you know.  And that is just what ex-racecar driver Simon Wood has done.  He has written a mystery with motorsports as the theme; sort of a Dick Francis novel on wheels, if you will.

It all begins the night before a big race when a nine-time champion threatens to kill his rival, who is in the lead to capture the title.  When the rival actually is killed during the race under suspicious circumstances in a collision with the champion, Aidy Westlake undertakes to prove it was a case of murder.  Throughout all sorts of hardships and dangers, he doggedly continues his mission, until the plot inevitably takes a sharp turn.

Filled with loads of details on the racing scene and the people and equipment that make it possible, the novel moves spiritedly apace.  It is filled with suspense and startling revelations, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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

The Fifth Witness
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06935-9
Hardcover

The saga of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, continues, following his previous appearance as a special prosecutor.  Times are hard and money scarce.  To scratch out a living, Mickey is now advertising in TV for clients facing foreclosure of their homes.  There is in this era no shortage of potential clients, and a thousand dollars here, a monthly payout there, and bills can be paid.

When one of his clients is arrested for the murder of a bank’s home loan officer, Mickey is once again a defense lawyer, giving the author to do what he does best: a dramatic courtroom story.  The drama is there, but a little bit of a potboiler, with the reader pretty much knowing not only the outcome of the trial but what follows.

Mickey, however, remains an interesting continuing character and we can be certain the sequel will take him into new territory once again. The author is excellent in constructing a plot that moves forward in a logical and careful manner, albeit with few surprises.  Written with aplomb and, to a degree, the flippancy necessary for Mickey’s personality, perhaps the next novel in the series will unveil more depth to the character. Make no mistake, however:  this one’s a good read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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

Mystery
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-50569-9
Hardcover

Sometimes the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” refers to a good thing.  Certainly it applies to the Alex Delaware series.  For 25 novels, the basic plot has remained the same: a crime is committed and Dr. Delaware and Lt. Sturgis investigate, analyze, philosophize and eventually solve it.  This 26th story in the series is no different.

A beautiful young woman, obviously waiting for a “date,” first observed in a rundown hotel by Alex and his paramour Robin, is found later up in the Hollywood Hills shot in the face.  Sturgis invites Alex, by chance, to witness the scene, and the good doctor is able to identify the victim by the way she was dressed.  There is little in the way of clues or evidence, but that doesn’t stop them from researching and theorizing ad infinitum.

One would think that an author would tire of characters and plots after so many novels, but they remain fresh and interesting, readable and enjoyable.  So when’s the 27th?  It will undoubtedly be recommended as well.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

Book Review: The Silenced by Brett Battles

The Silenced
Brett Battles
Dell, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-440-24567-4
Mass Market Paperback

Jonathan Quinn makes a welcome return in this, the fourth book in this terrific series.  Quinn is a freelancer known as a ‘cleaner’ whose job is to discreetly clean up crime scenes and the occasional body after the always possible bloodshed.  He is known to have an ethical streak.  On the other hand, we are told “It wasn’t Quinn’s job to stand in judgment.  He was only there to make the condemned disappear.  It wasn’t that he was amoral, but he’d learned over the years that it was often hard to tell where the line between right and wrong was drawn, and sometimes there didn’t seem to be a line at all.”

As always, the story is an international one, with settings as varied as New Jersey, Los Angeles, Maine, and London.  Working with him, as usual, is Nate, with whom he has an apprentice/mentor relationship, and his lover, Orlando, a beautiful Asian woman, about whom the author says:  “Orlando was not the name she’d been born with.  Like most in the secret world, she’d taken on a new identity, burying who she had been.”  That is no less true for Quinn, whose real identity, heretofore undisclosed, becomes a focal point, as both his actual name and those of his family members becoming known to the wrong people, to disastrous effect.

Quinn has been given multiple albeit similar tasks from a single client.  When Quinn et al arrive at the first location where the object of his ministrations awaits, he finds that he is not the only one on the scene; so also at the next location.   Is there more than one opposing team?  Then, oddly, he is asked to remove a body from a wall in a London building.  The odd thing about it is that the body was hidden in that wall over two decades earlier.  There is suspense aplenty, and twists and turns as Quinn tries to determine who exactly is friend and who foe.  One lesson is certain, however, as the author says: “For the right amount of cash, some people will give anything away.”

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2011.

Book Reviews: Death Echo by Elizabeth Lowell and Money to Burn by James Grippando

Death Echo
Elizabeth Lowell
Avon, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-16442-7
Mass Market Paperback

International intrigue is at the heart of the plot which joins Emma Cross, former CIA operative and now with St. Kilda’s Consulting, and Mackenzie Durand, former Special Ops leader, the only survivor of his team in its last mission.  Now a transit captain, he picks up a brand new yacht, the Blackbird, offloaded from a container ship to bring to a small port where it is to be fitted out.  Meanwhile, Emma has been looking for the yacht’s twin, the Black Swan, for an insurance company since its disappearance.

The two are thrown together when all the intelligence agencies pick up vibes of an impending terrorist act against a major U.S. urban center. It is not known whether the threat is biological, chemical or nuclear.  So Mackenzie becomes the captain of the Blackbird, with Emma as “first mate,” on a voyage through the inland passageway on the West Coast of Canada, ostensibly to bring the ship to its new owner.  It is quite a trip.

The descriptions of the passageway, the tides, weather and difficulties of steering a ship under various conditions are graphic and exciting.  And despite all the dangers from the sea and adversaries, love finds a way.

Recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the pb edition has also been issued in a larger trim size, ISBN 978-006204484-6.]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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

Money to Burn
James Grippando
Harper,2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-155631-9
Mass Market Paperback

By combining the issues of market manipulation and identity theft, James Grippando has raised some interesting questions in this somewhat flawed but timely novel.  This reviewer’s reservations, which admittedly are probably in the minority, apply to whether or not the premise that a single hedge fund could actually bring down a thinly disguised Goldman Sachs without steps being taken by the New York Stock Exchange or the Securities and Exchange Commission stepping in to stop naked selling of the brokerage’s stock is valid.

Nevertheless, legal issues aside, it makes for a provocative tale, especially in view of recent events in the financial world. Essentially the plot involves a 35-year-old star of the venerable Wall Street firm Saxton Silvers, Mike Cantella, who discovers on the night of his birthday that all his accounts have been transferred to an offshore bank and he is left without a penny.  At the same time, these funds are used to short the firm’s stock, driving its price down, and continued pressure pushes the firm into bankruptcy.  Further, other events point to his involvement in the demise, as well as in subsequent murders.

The story is over-plotted, with all kinds of devices including spyware on cell phones and computers, enigmatic e-mails from unidentified sources, FBI probes, corporate espionage, and a wife of four hours who disappears and is presumed dead, eaten by a shark, not to mention a second wife who complicates Mike’s life while he is fighting to clear his name.  And to wrap up, introduction of the Madoff Ponzi scheme seems a bit gratuitous. Nevertheless, the novel is an entertaining read, and does have some useful insights into today’s financial picture.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.