Book Reviews: The Sparrow’s Blade by Kenneth R. Lewis, Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, The Cut by George Pelecanos, The Infernals by John Connolly, and Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

The Sparrow's BladeThe Sparrow’s Blade
Kenneth R. Lewis
Krill Press, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9821443-8-1
Trade Paperback

As in this author’s debut novel, Little Blue Whales, which was warmly received, this one also takes place in Cutter City, OR, and features Kevin Kearnes and Thud Compton.  It is now a few years after the harrowing experience described in the earlier book in which they were almost killed, and their roles have changed:  Kearnes, the former Chief of Police, is now with the Dept. of Homeland Security in Portland, and Compton has replaced him as Police Chief.

The book opens with Kevin traveling to Cutter City with his fiancée Britt McGraw and his sons by a former marriage, to be married as well as to visit with the Comptons.  Little did any of them know that a sword on display at the local library, a relic of World War II when a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs in the vicinity and then crashed, would result in the turmoil that it did when it is stolen.

The excellent portrayal of the characters, coupled with the tension of the plot, maintain reader interest on the same high level of the predecessor book.  The level of writing remains at the high level of Little Blue Whales which presumably will continue in the forthcoming The Helical Vane.  Needless to say, Sparrow (the name for the sword, btw) is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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HeadhuntersHeadhunters
Jo Nesbo
Vintage Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-94868-7
Trade Paperback

Turning his attention away from his highly regarded Harry Hole series, the author has written a compelling standalone.  While the background of Roger Brown, as a top headhunter of corporate officials in Oslo, provides some interesting and useful information on how to judge and place candidates, it is the main crime plot and character descriptions that are undeniably gripping.

Roger seems to have it all, except sufficient income to pay for the art gallery he has helped his wife, Diana, establish and operate. Thus, to supplement his need for cash to deal with the operating deficit, he steals art from candidates he interviews for jobs.  Until, that is, he encounters Clas Greve, whom he meets one evening at his wife’s gallery.  And the plot thickens.

Jo Nesbo, in this novel, has proved he is an author capable of writing almost anything.  It is superbly formulated, with humor and irony. The plot has more twists and turns in its concluding pages than a mountain road.  It needs no further recommendation other than to go get a copy and revel in a job well done.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The CutThe Cut
George Pelecanos
A Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-07842-9
Hardcover

In the first novel of a new series, we are introduced to Spero Lucas, a just-returned Iraq war veteran, working as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney with a sideline of recovering “lost” property for a 40 per cent cut of its value.  In the caper he undertakes in this initial foray, he seems to bite off more than he can chew.

The attorney is defending a top marijuana peddler, and the client asks for Spero to visit him in jail.  He tells Spero that his deliveries are being stolen and he is out of money, and would appreciate recovery of either the merchandise or the cash.  The assignment takes Spero off into all kinds of action, some of which is kind of far-fetched.

Mr. Pelecanos is well-known for his characterizations and his use of the nation’s Capital as background, and this book is no exception. Somehow, however, using Spero as an example of a footloose vet just returned from the desert just didn’t quite ring true.  Some of his friends who served with him there do exhibit the plight of wounded, disabled marines, or just plain still unemployed, somewhat more realistically.  That said, the novel is written with the author’s accustomed flair, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  Certainly, the action is vivid, and the reader keeps turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The InfernalsThe Infernals
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4308-4
Hardcover

This novel, the sequel to The Gates, picks up 18 months after the events described in that book, after young Samuel Johnson [just turned 13], assisted by his faithful dog, Boswell, repelled an invasion of earth by the forces of evil.  The two books are quite a departure for the author, whose Charlie Parker mysteries are highly regarded and widely read.  These are categorized as YA books, laced with pseudo-scientific and amusing footnotes.  [It should perhaps be noted that the tenth Charlie Parker novel, The Burning Soul, has also been released.]

This time around Samuel, accompanied by four dwarfs and the truck in which they were riding, an ice cream truck and its vendor-driver, and two policemen and their patrol car, are instead transported by the ogre Ba’al in the form of Mrs. Abernathy to the netherworld to present the boy to her master, the Great Malevolence, as a gift in an effort to regain his favor.  And so we follow their adventures as they experience the strange land and seek a way to get back home.

Written at times with tongue firmly in cheek, the little nuggets of information on a wide variety of subjects are both informative and often just plain funny.  A very enjoyable read that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Feast Day of FoolsFeast Day of Fools
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4311-4
Hardcover

Against the bleak terrain of southern Texas, a morality play featuring Sheriff Hackberry Holland is played out.  It begins with a man who escapes his captors, who had planned to turn him over to Al Qaeda, for a price, for his knowledge of drone technology.  Not only is he sought by his former captors, but the FBI, among others, as well.  Hack, and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, become involved in the interplay.

This is a complicated novel, one in which the author delves into a wide variety of moral and ethical values, adding Hack’s past experiences as a POW during the Korean Conflict, to raise additional questions of right and wrong.  And bringing in The Preacher as a counterpoint further adds to the complexity of not only the plot, but also Hack’s integrity.

James Lee Burke’s prose is as stark as his descriptions of the Texas and Mexican landscapes, and the characters he introduces are deftly portrayed, both good and evil.  He has presented an intricate plot in this, his 30th novel, and the fifth featuring the Texas sheriff.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Book Reviews Galore by Ted Feit

The House at Sea’s End
Elly Griffiths
Quercus, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84916-367-5
Hardcover

[It should perhaps be noted that this review is based on the UK and Canada edition; the US edition is now available in the US from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

As the book opens Kate, the baby born to Ruth Galloway, the forensic expert, as a result of a one-night stand with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson in the prior entry in the series, is now four months old and the mother is still juggling her maternal and professional duties, sometimes to much criticism from friends.  But the baby seems to survive.

In any event, her motherly demands don’t seem to prevent Ruth from getting involved with more forensic investigations and police investigations.  Especially when six skeletons are discovered on a beach and her examination indicates that they are probably from Germany, perhaps dating back to an invasion during the early days of World War II on a lonely Norfolk beach.  Indications are that each was shot in the back of the head.  The question arises:  Did the various persons in the Home Guard play any role in their deaths?

As in the previous two novels featuring Ruth and D.I. Nelson, they combine to discover the facts surrounding the mystery of past and present.  The prose is lean and the plot moves apace with agility.  The characters remain immensely human and intriguing, and the novel lives up to the standards of the predecessor novels.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Troubled Man
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Alfred A. Knopf, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59349-8
Hardcover

Nothing is as it seems, and all good things come to an end.  And so, the time has come to bid adieu to Kurt Wallander.  But not before he undertakes a deeply introspective journey at the behest of his daughter, Linda, who has just made him a grandfather (although she and the baby’s father have not yet decided to marry).  It appears that her putative father-in-law, a retired naval commander, has disappeared, and she and her significant other, the man’s son, ask Wallander to try to find out what happened.  Is he the victim of foul play?

Wallander has vacation time available and undertakes to investigate, but not before the missing man’s wife is found dead, perhaps murdered. Wallander muddles along, picking up all kinds of extraneous information, misleading clues, and, perhaps just as important, discerning more about himself as he more frequently suffers from lapses of memory.

The author is well-known for his ability to address significant political themes in his novels.  And this last Wallander novel is no exception, delving deeply into the Cold War, and Sweden’s “neutrality” policy.  I found the novel somewhat slow reading and difficult, and wonder if it is the writing or the translation.  Nevertheless, it is a touching look at “the great detective,” and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Hanging Hill
Mo Hayder
Bantam Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-593-06384-2
Hardcover, 428 pp., 12.99 BPS

[It should be noted that this book is presently available only in the UK/Canada and will be available in the US in February 2012 from Atlantic Monthly Press]

The author is known for writing thrillers, sometimes with horrific plots and graphic details.  This novel pales by comparison, with merely an offstage rape scene to occasion a police procedural of somewhat questionable means, and a side story about two sisters who have had virtually no contact for 20 years but are in a sense joined at the hip by the rape victim, and then that thread develops into an evolving family relationship.

The story is more about the various characters—the two sisters, their lovers, their own background and history—and how each is affected, rather than the crime and ensuing investigation which seems to be an afterthought to contribute to the main plotline.

Written with verve, the novel seems to drag along except for some more “exciting” portions.  Much of the descriptions of one sister’s divorce and subsequent life seem labored, and the ending was to this reader quite unsatisfactory.  In fact the title of the book might be a fit description for its conclusion:  It seems to just hang without any wrapping up.  That notwithstanding, the novel still bears reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Bad Boy
Peter Robinson
Harper Paperbacks, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-0613-6296-5
Mass Market Paperback

Murphy’s Law seems to apply to the premise behind this novel.  After a well-earned vacation touring the U.S. Southwest and the wonders of LA and San Francisco, DI Banks finds, upon his return to Eastvale, that an old friend has died after police tasered him, Banks’ daughter is missing, and everything is in an uncontrolled mess.

It starts when a former neighbor of Banks discovers a gun which had been hidden by her daughter in her bedroom when visiting her parents.  The mother visits the police station hoping to discuss the situation with Banks who, unfortunately, is still away.  When the police raid the house, the woman’s husband dies of a heart attack after the aforementioned taser incident; Banks’ daughter, Tracy, infatuated with the man who owned the gun (the “bad boy” of the title) warns him of the police inquiries and hides him in her father’s cottage.  And from that point on, as Banks returns, everything goes downhill.

The chase begins with Tracy’s status changing from willing lover to hostage, and Banks and the rest of the police force struggling with the lack of clues as to where the fugitive and his captive are.  As usual, Banks doesn’t always play by the rules.  But then, neither does the bad boy.  Another well-written and off-beat story in the series, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Raylan
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211946-9
Hardcover

Resurrecting Raylan Givens, the U.S. Marshall from Kentucky given to wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and shooting instead of apprehending, Elmore Leonard once again uses his unusual talent for writing droll dialogue and creating amusing and unusual characters to entertain the reader.  This time, he begins in Harlan County, where marijuana is king instead of coal (100 pounds of weed can fetch $300,000) which apparently doesn’t satisfy two nincompoop sons of the dope-grower who turn their attention to reaping and selling body parts.

Then the author goes on to tell us about another cast of characters, with the slyness only he can muster.  It’s a world only people created by Leonard inhabit, and they talk as only he can make them speak.  Read it and laugh.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.