Book Review: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

What You Break
A Gus Murphy Novel #2
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7304-2
Hardcover

Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok.  Others write about localities they know.  And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr.  Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room.

The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him.   Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered.  The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways  stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island.

Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others.  The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws.

A good read, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Book Review: Killer, Come Hither by Louis Begley

Killer, Come HitherKiller, Come Hither
Louis Begley
Nan Talese/Doubleday, April 2015
ISBN:  978-0-385-53914-2
Hardcover

The protagonist of Louis Begley’s newest novel is Jack Dana, a former Marine Corps Infantry officer who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being badly wounded and returning home.  He is now, seven years later, a bestselling writer, with two books behind him and a third in its early stages.  He is a self-described warrior, as were his father and grandfather before him.  Having attended Oxford and Yale and invited to join the Society of Fellows at Harvard, there also following in his forebears’ footsteps.  The latter was a graduate of Harvard College and had been awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star; his grandfather the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

Now his only remaining relative is his father’s brother, Harry [now Jack’s surrogate father], a prominent New York attorney, who himself had graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law and was a leading partner at a prominent New York law firm.  Shockingly, en route home after a long over-due vacation in Brazil, Jack discovers that his beloved uncle is dead, having been found hanging in his Sag Harbor home in the exclusive east end of Long Island.

Jack becomes convinced that his uncle had not committed suicide, especially after he is told that Harry’s secretary was also dead, after an apparent accident that had put her in the path of an oncoming subway train, one day after Harry’s body was discovered.  He believes that both deaths had to be connected to the law firm and its largest client, a Texas oilman and right-wing multi-billionaire and activist whose political beliefs had him “somewhere to the right of the John Birch Society and Attila the Hun.”  Aided by Scott Prentice, his closest friend since their days at school, and Kerry Black, recently made partner at the firm and Jack’s lover, he pursues his own investigation.  Soon, faced with the near impossibility of finding the man who he believes caused his uncle’s death, the meaning of the title becomes clear:  Jack decides he must make the man come to him.

It was a bit disconcerting to me that, as the novel is written in the first person, nowhere in the book do quotation marks appear, and it was initially off-putting, to have to realize in the middle of a paragraph that what appears on the page is not exposition, but a conversation between two people.  But I hasten to add that when the plot, and the suspense, kicks up a notch or three, about mid-way through the novel, I didn’t even notice that, I was so busy turning pages.  A thoroughly enjoyable read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

Book Review: The Warning by Sophie Hannah and The After House by Michael Phillip Cash

The WarningThe Warning
Sophie Hannah
Witness Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-242884-4
Ebook
Mass Market Paperback available August 2015

From the publisher—

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

When a kindly stranger does Chloe a good deed, she decides she must repay him. But in tracing him, she meets a sympathetic woman named Nadine, who warns Chloe to stay away from the man at all costs. “Give him nothing, tell him nothing, don’t trust him,” she says. “Avoid him like the plague.”

Chloe knows the sensible thing to do: walk away. But her curiosity gets the best of her. What is the truth about the good Samaritan? How dangerous could he be? And can Chloe find the answers without putting herself and her daughter in harm’s way?

Years ago, when I was a Girl Scout, both as a girl and, later, as a troop leader, one of my very favorite campfire songs was “The Ash Grove”. Since that song is pretty much the catalyst for everything that happens in this story, I was completely hooked from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took no time at all for me to recognize that Chloe is essentially a stalker and, perhaps worse, TSTL.

Make no mistake, Ms. Hannah has crafted a terrific story full of questions and suspense and interesting characters. It’s a good thing because, otherwise, I might have closed the book right when Chloe signed a note to a near-stranger “Lots of love”. What woman in her right mind does that? If I hadn’t closed it then, I would have when she muses about how he’d be so hurt at what someone else said about him. Yes, she’s got the obsessive gene for sure.

When Tom mentions diamonds in a joking manner, Chloe immediately jumps to a ridiculous assumption. What is wrong with this besotted woman? Wait…could it be that Chloe and Tom are two peas in the proverbial pod?

And then it all goes upside down.

One of Sophie Hannah‘s many talents is that she can keep me reading even when I’m sure I no longer want to. Mind you, I still think Chloe is more than a little off the rails but, still and all, I’m not the least bit sorry I continued on, if only because I had the chance to once again see Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, soon to be starring in their own book, Woman with a Secret, coming in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

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The After HouseThe After House
Michael Phillip Cash
CreateSpace, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-5006-0036-5
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Remy Galway and her daughter Olivia are rebuilding their life after a failed marriage in a 300 year old cottage in historic Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Little do they know, another occupant is lurking in the haven of their own home. Will the After House be their shelter or their tomb?

The After House strikes me as a story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a romance? A ghost story? A tale of love lost and love found? Of escaping an abusive relationship? Of foul play?

Actually, it’s all of the above and I think that works to its detriment because, as a relatively short book, we don’t have enough time to be really invested and the multiple threads don’t help. I also think that some of the behavior of the main character, Remy, becomes questionable because of the time restriction.

Why, for instance, is Remy virtually wallowing in self-pity when it’s been nearly a year since her divorce and surely longer since the events that ended her marriage? Why does she claim to be gunshy of relationships and then show herself to be otherwise? Why is whoever is out to cause her trouble so very, very incompetent?

Then there’s Captain Eli. I actually liked him much better than anyone else and had a good deal of sympathy for his inability to move on. Then again, I had to wonder why practically everyone can see him and/or feel his presence and, in some cases, even touch him physically?

Oh, I also liked a couple of characters named Sten and Marum but to tell you why would be to spoil things so I’ll say no more about them.

Anyhoo, I choose to look at this as a simple ghost story with some other elements thrown in to flesh out the tale and, as such, it was a few short hours nicely spent. I don’t regret the time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

Book Review: Partials by Dan Wells

PartialsPartials
Dan Wells
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins Publishers), February 2012
ISBN 978-0-06-207104-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials–engineered organic beings identical to humans–has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what’s left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she’s not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them–connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.

One of the apparent requirements of young adult dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction is that the teen protagonist must be mature beyond her years and Kira is no exception to that “rule”. In this case, though, her maturity doesn’t seem so unnatural, perhaps because she is training to be a medic and that has forced her to see and deal with situations most teens wouldn’t be likely to encounter. Her medical knowledge has also led her to want to know more about the virus that is still killing humans and more about why the Partials had waged war with humans. It was easy for me to empathize with Kira’s fear of forced reproduction, especially when her closest friend becomes pregnant and there is no expectation the baby will survive.When she decides to capture a Partial in hopes of developing a cure for the virus, the resulting desperate, exciting action scenes are nerve-racking but believable.

The author does a nice job of letting the reader feel the tension when a foraging party goes outside the Long Island Defense Grid and it’s not surprising to find that most of the surviving humans don’t question the laws imposed by the Senate, no matter how restrictive they are. Throughout human existence, we’ve shown ourselves to be largely compliant with those who are in charge so why should things be any different in the year 2076? It’s not even surprising to learn that there is a small but active resistance movement known as the Voice. What isn’t very believable, though, is that a 16-year-old medic-in-training would be the one to decide she can find a cure and save humanity. Rebel against authority, yes. What teenager doesn’t? Save the world with just a small band of teen buddies? Maybe not so much.

IsolationDon’t get me wrong—I like Kira very much, as well as Marcus, Samm, Jayden, Madison, and all her other friends and I was especially happy that the author didn’t force a love triangle in this first book. It’s nice to be able to really get to know these central characters before the inevitable romantic entanglements take hold. If I have any complaint about the characters in Partials, it’s just that there are too many and I couldn’t really keep them all straight, much less care about them all. Perhaps the author will concentrate the story on fewer humans and Partials in the next book.

I am, indeed, looking forward to that next book. With the shocking twist that takes place in Partials, how could I not want to read Fragments? It’ll be coming out next spring and I’ll be in line when it does. In the meantime, I’m eagerly anticipating Isolation, an ebook novella Mr. Wells will be releasing this fall. That’ll just have to tide me over till next winter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2012.

Book Review: Fifth Victim by Zoe Sharp

Fifth Victim
Zoe Sharp
Allison & Busby, April 2011
ISBN 978-0-7490-0932-8
Hardcover

[This title is presently only available in/through the UK/Canada, not yet available in the US. It will be published in the US by Pegasus Books in January 2012.]

Charlie Fox [nee Charlotte Foxcroft] is a “take no prisoners” kinda gal.  Now nearing thirty, she takes on a new assignment for her company, Armstrong-Meyer, a “close-protection” [read “bodyguard”] organization: to protect a young woman from kidnapping.  The preemptive action by the girl’s mother is due to the fact that three of her friends have been kidnapped, a fourth is abducted in the early pages of the book, and the fear is that she will become the titular fifth victim.  The families of all those involved are for the most part obscenely wealthy, with the requisite enormous homes [or, more accurately, estates] outside Southampton, up towards the eastern end of Long Island, multiple sports cars, private jets, yachts, etc.; the payment of ransom has not always ensured the safe return of the victim.

Charlie needs the distraction of this assignment, inasmuch as her lover and ‘soulmate,’ Sean Meyer, lies in a coma, his prognosis uncertain, following the events that ended the last book in the series, Fourth Day, a near-fatal shooting three months prior

The author’s background – thoroughly familiar with rifles and for that matter every type of gun imaginable, equally at home flying a helicopter and light aircraft as on the back of a horse and piloting a yacht – uniquely qualifies her to create a protagonist capable of getting into, and out of, one very challenging situation after another, and providing the reader with an exciting, eminently readable thriller along the way.  The tension of the situation confronting Charlie in this entry, with Sean’s life, or death, an uncertain constant, only adds to the suspense inherent in this well-written novel.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2011.