Book Reviews: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo and A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

The Thirst
A Harry Hole Novel #11
Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith
Knopf, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-385-35216-1
Hardcover

Harry Hole, Norway’s most experienced serial murder detective, is content to no longer serve on the murder squad, instead lecturing at the police college and living happily after marrying Rakel three years ago.  Unfortunately, such bliss is interrupted when evidence of a possible murder too difficult to solve leads the police chief to blackmail Harry into joining the hunt.  And then he jumps in with both feet.

It turns out that the villain in a previous novel in the series, Police, may be the sought-after culprit, especially when Harry recognizes the killer’s MO.  As the frustrating hunt continues, we learn more about vampirism than, perhaps, we’d like.  It appears that the murderer has a taste for drinking the victim’s blood.  And Nesbo delves into the subject deeply and often.

In this, the 11th Harry Hole novel, the author once again demonstrates why the series is so popular:  a plot so well-developed that the reader hardly notices the length of the book.  And the twist that draws the tale to an end certainly is an added fillip.  The Thirst demonstrates to what lengths Harry Hole will go to solve a case.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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

A Game of Ghosts
A Charlie Parker Thriller #15
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7189-5
Hardcover

This is Book #15 in the Charlie Parker series.  In it, Charlie has made a deal with Special Agent Ross and is on retainer to the FBI, and he is asked to find a private investigator, Jacob Eklund, also working for Ross, who apparently has disappeared.  With few facts, especially what the PI was doing for Ross, Parker begins his investigation.  And it leads him into the weirdest of investigations. It seems Eklund, on his own, was involved in tracking down a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to extraordinary events or sightings.

Meanwhile, Parker is also facing pressure from Rachel, his onetime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sam; she is convinced Sam’s exposure to Parker places her in jeopardy.  This belief, reinforced by Sam’s abduction in a previous novel and possible harm, leads Rachel to seek judicial relief preventing direct contact between Parker and his daughter without direct supervision.

As the author acknowledges: “This odd book—if mine are not all odd books—is as much a product of a lifetime of reading ghost stories…”  And it is odd.  And it is filled with ghost stories.  It is an intriguing tale of the supernatural, together with a basic crime story.  It is one fascinating account and well-plotted, bringing together what amounts to a detective story and a ghost story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, One Dog Night by David Rosenfelt, Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance, and The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

Before I Go to Sleep
S.J. Watson
Harper, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206055-6
Hardcover

It would be easy, after reading this novel about a woman suffering a special kind of amnesia, to say “let’s forget it.”  But that would being doing this first novel a disservice because it really is a notable effort, if somewhat lacking in certain respects.  To begin with, it is written by a man who, to this reader, is trying to think like a woman, but not really succeeding.

It is the story of a woman named Christine, who obviously had a traumatic experience resulting in her loss of memory.  But not any ordinary memory loss.  No, she can’t remember anything of her previous life when waking up each day.  So she has to be reminded, each morning after wakening, of even the most common chores; each day is a new learning period.  Then, after many fruitless medical attempts, a new doctor, Ed Nash, takes on her case, and slight progress in remembering takes place, leading to a twist at the conclusion.

Christine’s experiences lead to some interesting developments, keeping the reader wondering what comes next.  The role of the doctor is mechanical, and some of his medical observations seem stilted and persecutory.  It seems less than credible, for instance, that some people close to her could disappear from her life without a trace, only to make a cameo appearance at the end.   On the whole, however, while I found it a slow read, it was worth the effort, and is therefore recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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

One Dog Night
David Rosenfelt
Minotaur Books, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-64799-5
Hardcover

This novel has some of the endearing attributes of an Andy Carpenter story, but unfortunately just ‘some.’  Missing are the customary high jinks of courtroom maneuvers which made prior novels outstanding.  In this book, Andy only goes through the motions, and most of them are objected to and denied.  Present, however, are the usual sardonic comments, humor and the “team” which always provide the series with an uplift.

The plot, of course, is up to the author’s accustomed standard, with Andy, Laurie, Sam and Marcus coming up with background and facts to sustain the efforts to exonerate the client, sometimes in the face of extreme danger.  In this case, Noah Galloway, about to receive a Presidential appointment, is accused of having set fire to a building housing a drug distributor six years before, resulting in the deaths of 26 persons.  A former drug addict, he has no memory of the event, but does harbor guilty feelings.

Andy, who has no need or desire to work, much less take on another client, does in this case, because Noah is the former owner of Tara, the golden retriever that is a major part of his life.  First he has to convince himself of Noah’s innocence.  Then go to work.  And then just plod forward.  Since the usual courtroom antics do not take place, the plot unwinds in a manner which is mechanical in nature, with forces outside Andy’s control or contrivance.  In some other novel, this type of conclusion might be warranted, but in this series it seems out of place.  Despite these misgivings, Andy’s irreverence and quips are always enjoyable.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

Betrayal of Trust
J.A. Jance
William Morrow, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-173115-0
Hardcover

The fact that this novel is the 20th J.P. Beaumont book in the series speaks for itself.  The novels have deeply drawn characters, tightly constructed plots, and enough imagination to keep a reader entranced throughout.  Betrayal of Trust, of course, is no exception to that rule.

What starts out as a secret mission on behalf of the Washington State Attorney General and the Governor leads J.P. Beaumont and his partner and wife, Mel Soames, on a trail with deeper and much more nefarious consequences.  Initially the Governor, Marsha Longmire, with whom J.P. went to high school, discovers what appears to be a snuff film on her step-grandchild’s cell phone and requests him to investigate.  This leads to a much more complicated case, with more potentially far-reaching damage to all concerned.

Perhaps the most powerful novel among all the books in the series, this is an easy one to recommend wholeheartedly.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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

The Leopard
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, December 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59587-400
Hardcover

The latest Harry Hole novel presents the reader with a formidable challenge:  On the one hand, the temptation is to try to read this tautly written, tightly plotted murder mystery in a single sitting. On the other hand, its 611 pages is undoubtedly a very large hurdle. Whatever the method, it’s well worth the effort to read it no matter how long it takes.

After the travails he suffered at the conclusion of The Snowman, Harry was so down that he resigned from the police force and traveled to the Far East, where he loses himself in alcohol, opium and gambling.  There, a female detective from Norway finds him, pays off his gambling debts, tells him his father is in the hospital dying and he, as the only officer with experience solving serial murders, is wanted back in Oslo to help in what appears to be another multiple homicide case.  At first he is reluctant, but finally accedes to the request to return because of his dad.

Still refusing to rejoin the crime squad, Harry finally gives in when a third victim, a member of parliament, is killed.  There are no clues and no common links between the victims until Harry discovers all three spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin together, and it becomes apparent that the “guests” are being picked off one by one.

From that point, the case slowly unfolds somewhat murkily to keep the reader in the dark as to the ultimate denouement. Sometimes, Harry’s insights are prophetic, others off base.  But he always has his eye on the main purpose:  to catch the bad guy.  At the same time, he is fighting his personal demons, his separation from the great love of his life, his relationship with his dying father, the politics of the competition between elements of the department as to responsibility for murder investigations, and his disillusionment with his role as a cop.  More than enough, one must say, for one man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

Book Reviews x 5 by Ted Feit

Electric Barracuda
Tim Dorsey
Wm. Morrow, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-87689-9
Hardcover

Attempting to review a Serge A. Storm novel is no small chore, it is a monumental task, because there is no possible way to provide even a modicum of a synopsis.  But one can always provide one conclusion, and this 13th novel in the series is no exception to the rule that it is whacky, humorous, different and a delight to read.

The themes in bare essence are as follows: Serge is on his usual tour of Florida’s “attractions” as a “fugitive,” advising those who read his website on how to enjoy themselves while “on the lam.”  Meanwhile, in reality (if such a thing exists in a Serge Storm plot) he is being chased by nemesis Mahoney and a Special State Task Force.  And while he’s at it, Serge has to recover funds fraudulently taken by an unscrupulous attorney from his grandfather’s old gang.

Enough said.  Just read the novel end laugh out loud.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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

The Snowman
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59586-7
Hardcover

The Harry Hole series presents the reader with somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand, we are informed that Norway is virtually free from serial killers.  On the other hand, Hole is reputed to be the only detective in the nation with experience in catching serial killers, having accomplished his experience in Australia and also attending an FBI course.  And then, serial killers tend to appear in the Harry Hole novels, including this one.

The first of several missing persons is a married mother, and the only clue is a snowman outside her home. Shortly before her disappearance, Hole received a mysterious letter which, in retrospect, leads him to believe there was a link between it and the woman’s vanishing.  In reviewing unsolved cases, Harry and his team find an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over some years.

Once again, Jo Nesbo has written a taut thriller, one that is forceful and gripping and, this time, full of madness.  His novels just keep on getting better and better.  Fast-paced and staggering, always keeping the reader looking ahead to the next shift, keeping one off balance with wonder.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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

The Janus Stone
Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-23744-2
Hardcover

Near the conclusion of the debut novel in this series, The Crossing Places, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and DI Harry Nelson enjoy an emotional one-night stand after solving the mystery of discovered bones in the salt marsh in Norwich, England.  In this second installment, we learn that Ruth is now three months pregnant, but that doesn’t prevent her from jumping into the trenches when a skeleton is uncovered during a dig at a development site.  Are the bones ancient or more recent?  Is it a murder case?

Juggling ancient Roman history, classical lore and modern science is the basics of a Ruth Galloway mystery, and The Janus Stone is no exception.  Janus is the God with two heads, looking forward and backward, guardian of “the door.”  And it is under the door to an old mansion, which served for a time as a home for children, that the bones are found.  Whether they are the remains of a little girl who ran away with her brother years before, or is there some other explanation, remains the task of DI Nelson and his associates to discover, especially after Ruth confirms they are of modern, rather than ancient, origin.  [Not a spoiler – this is revealed very early on.]  Other mysteries arise, especially when Ruth’s life is threatened.  Who is the perpetrator?

By combining ancient mythology with a plot involving family secrets, insanity, and two independent and interesting characters, the novel keeps the reader rapt in a flowing tale with multi-level subplots. Written with insight and humor, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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

Three Seconds
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Translated by Kari Dickson
SilverOak (Sterling), January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4027-8592-4
Hardcover

In the tradition of Swedish noir crime novels, this is a brutal and twisted tale of the cynical use of criminals as informers (“snitches” in prison parlance) and the cover-ups and subterfuge which follow.  It also is a cynical tale of the apparent practice of allowing drug use in Swedish prisons to keep prisoners calm and compliant.  Moreover, it is a look at police and political corruption.  In other words, it is one helluva tale.

The plot follows Piet Hoffman, who has served as an informer for almost a decade, now deeply involved with a Polish drug ring which he has infiltrated to the extent that he has risen to head up an operation to supply all of Sweden’s inmates with drugs.  It is, of course, the police plan that he would help crush the organization in the effort.  Then there is Detective Inspector Ewert Grens, a troubled man investigating a murder at which Hoffman was present.

The five novels which have now been published by the authors are anything but the usual crime genre..  A combination of fact and fiction (one author is an investigative reporter, the other an ex-criminal), written with depth and detail.  The writing is powerful, and the suspense builds from beginning to end.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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

Secrets to the Grave
Tami Hoag
Dutton, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95192-6
Hardcover

While this novel is a sequel to Deeper than the Dead, featuring many of its characters, in what is now a series, the book stands alone as a murder mystery on its own.  It takes place in a small California community in which a young artist, Marissa Fordham, and her four-year-old daughter have settled.  She is supported by a rich dowager who is a control freak.

Marissa is killed by multiple stab wounds and the child nearly murdered by strangulation, with multiple suspects to be sorted by the Sheriff’s Office, and particularly detective Tony Mendez, profiler Vince Leone and his wife, Anne Navarre, who becomes the child’s protector.  Piecing the story together is like peeling an onion, layer by layer.

The author has created the framework of a successful, continuing series, written with developing characters and evolving plots.  No need to add additional praise.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

Book Review: The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

The Dark Vineyard
Martin Walker
Knopf Publishing Group, July 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-27018-4
Hardcover

It is difficult to say whether the fictional town of Saint-Denis or its sole policeman, Benoit “Bruno” Courreges, is more charming, but certainly this novel is simply a delight.  It is a murder-mystery wrapped up in the French countryside surrounded by grape vines, vats and wine bottles.  Bruno is overly protective of his village, especially when a brash American offers to revolutionize the bucolic area and buy up most of the land to introduce mass wine-making and
marketing to ‘upgrade’ the traditional small-town methods.

Adding to Bruno’s woes initially is an arson fire which destroys a research station where genetically modified crops are being grown.  The first suspects are militant environmentalists.  Then two of Bruno’s friends are found dead, one of carbon dioxide asphyxiation from inhaling wine fumes, the other from a heart attack or broken neck falling off a ladder looking for the victim in a wine vat.

It falls to Bruno not only to solve the murders, but to save the town and preserve its values, and create new desperately needed jobs.  Then there is the dichotomy of his love life and his love of Saint-Denis.  The novel is written simply but enjoyably and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

Book Review: Split by Swati Avasthi

Split
Swati Avasthi
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN 0375863400
Hardcover (ARC), March 2010

When his abusive father kicks him out for having the audacity to fight back, 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon has only one place to go–his older brother Christian in New Mexico. From Chicago to Albuquerque is not an easy trip, particularly if you have only recently gotten your license and  don’t have money, but Jace goes with the faith that his brother will take him in.

You see, Christian ran away several years ago and has found a new life for himself. Having lived through their father’s abuse, Christian knows exactly what Jace is going through.

Unfortunately, two abused kids do not necessarily make the best roommates. They’ve got a lot of trauma, secrets, and bitterness to live through.  They do have help from Christian’s English teacher girlfriend, Mirriam, and Jace’s co-worker, Dakota.

Can they ever feel safe from their Dad?  And can they get their Mom, who they both fear is going to be killed by their father away?

“Split” is a compelling read from the first line to the breathless end.  While the story’s not a thriller per se, this relationship novel definitely had me on the edge of my seat all the way til three AM. This is an excellent book for older young adults and even adult readers will enjoy the finely-drawn characterization and heart-pounding pacing.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kyle, February 2010.