Book Reviews: Night School by Lee Child and The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Night School
A Jack Reacher Novel #21
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-041-7880-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army.  In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school.  That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind. Two other men are in the classroom – – an FBI agent and a CIA analyst.  Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.  Then they find out:  A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor – – a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”  For what?  And who from?  Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American.  Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with:  Sergeant Frances Neagley.  Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize:  If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.  From Langley to Hamburg, Jalalabad to Kiev, Night School moves like a bullet through a treacherous landscape of double crosses, faked identities, and new and terrible enemies, as Reacher maneuvers inside the game and outside the law.

Reacher is an imposing figure.  He is a military cop, 35 years old, a major with twelve years in, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds).   He thinks of himself as “a good street fighter.  Mostly because he enjoyed it.”  He thinks of his new “assignment” as a cooperation school, these disparate government agencies not known for getting along well together.  When the men fly to Hamburg, Reacher thinks:  “He had dealt with German cops before.  Both military and civilian.  Not always easy.  Mostly due to different perceptions. Germans thought they had been given a country, and Americans thought they had bought a large military base with servants.”  The identity of their primary target, known only as The American, is not known till 160 pages in, and the item[s] being sold not known until page 300.  We are reminded of the callous mindset when one character says “soccer wasn’t so bad. He had once seen it played with a human head.”

The book is intricately and meticulously plotted.  It was different from prior books in the series in that it is not as taut and edge-of-your-seat as previous entries, but the reader is carried along from beginning to end, just somewhat more sedately.  It is trademark Lee Child/Jack Reacher, however, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

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The Second Life of Nick Mason
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-3995-7432-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  A career criminal from Chicago’s South Side, Nick Mason got his start stealing cars and quickly graduated to safe-cracking and armed robbery.  But he left that life behind when he met and married his wife and settled down with her and their young daughter – until an old friend offered him a job he couldn’t refuse.  That fateful night at the harbor landed him in prison with a 25-to-life sentence and little hope of seeing his wife or daughter ever again.  When Nick is offered a deal allowing his release twenty years ahead of schedule, he takes it without hesitation or fully realizing the consequences.  Once outside, Nick steps into a glamorous life with a five-million-dollar condo, a new car, ten grand in cash every month, and a beautiful roommate. But while he’s returned to society, he’s still a prisoner, bound to the promise he made behind bars:  whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, Nick must answer it and follow whatever order he is given.  It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal mastermind serving a double-life term who still runs an empire from his prison cell.  Whatever Darius Cole needs him to be – – a problem solver, bodyguard, thief, or assassin – – Nick Mason must be that man.  Forced to commit increasingly dangerous crimes and relentlessly hunted by the detective who brought him to justice in the past, Nick finds himself in a secret war between Cole and an elite force of Chicago’s dirty cops.  Desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything – – his family, his sanity, and even his life – – to finally break free.

How does Nick resolve this second life he is now forced to live?  The manner in which he does so is revealed in this fascinating novel by Steve Hamilton, and the suspenseful way he accomplishes it is typical of what we have come to expect from this author, in this newest page-turner, just the first in a new series.  It goes against anything Nick had believed in:  Although admittedly involved with several kinds of illegal acts, he had never – and believed he never could – taken another man’s life.  But after five years and twenty-eight days in prison, and with the hope of re-starting his life with his beloved Gina and their little girl, he would do almost anything.  The book opens with quotes from two very different sources: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bruce Springsteen.  But expect the unexpected from this wonderful author.  I was delighted to learn that the next book in the series, Exit Strategy, will be published by Putnam in May, and I can’t wait to read it!   The Second Life of Nick Mason is, you will have guessed, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: The Affair by Lee Child, Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman by Thomas J. Fitzsimmons, Disturbance by Jan Burke, Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan, and Fallen by Karin Slaughter

The Affair
Lee Child
Delacorte, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-34432-6
Hardcover

The first dozen pages of Lee Child’s newest Jack Reacher book lays everything out in precise detail, as one would expect from Reacher, and from Mr. Child, as he enters the Pentagon on March 11, 1997, on what is to be “the last day I walked into that place as a legal employee of the people who built it.”  Reacher, the recipient of a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, is at this point in time 36 years old, and a major in the US Army Military Police.  He is given a delicate undercover assignment following the death of a 27-year-old woman in a small town in Mississippi several times referred to as the “back of beyond,” whose major source of income is the local Army base, and whose sheriff is a stunningly beautiful woman about the same age as Reacher.  Not surprisingly, though the latter and Reacher start off as antagonists, that situation changes pretty quickly.

Reacher’s background, for which fans have been clamoring for years, is finally given to them:  The circumstances surrounding his sudden departure from the armed forces which shaped everything that is to follow, much of which has been described in the fifteen previous
novels in this always exciting series.  The reader immediately knows the immense pleasure of starting a new Lee Child book, and a smile spread across my face as when entering any favorite place.

The author always provides small tidbits of new information, e.g., “most right-handed people have left legs fractionally shorter than their right legs,’ and “you can learn a lot from shoes,” and backs up these statements, of course.  Almost unexpectedly, the writing provokes smiles as much as tension, which is saying a lot.  Reacher says of a friend, “He fancied himself a raconteur.  And he liked background.  And context.  Deep background, and deep context. Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.”

Meticulously plotted, and with stunning twists, the book provides just what Reacher and Mr. Child always do:  All you need, and nothing you don’t.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons Inc., June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9789762-5-51-7
Trade Paperback

As with the earlier novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, which introduced readers to Police Officer Michael Beckett, the current book’s authenticity is immediately apparent. With good reason:  Following his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, the author was an NYC cop for a decade in the notorious section of the South Bronx known as Fort Apache.  Not surprisingly, Michael Beckett has a similar background, which also includes acting on tv, the fictional aspect having Beckett portray – what else? – a cop, on the show “Law & Order”.

He brings some emotional baggage with him this time around:  His girlfriend, with whom he worked while doing the tv show, is showing signs of discontent, and he fears the relationship might be coming to an end.  In addition, he is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his sister’s death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 18, with all the attendant guilt and desire for revenge against the drug dealers who’d sold her the poison that had ultimately killed her.

That desire for revenge is perhaps what leads Beckett to become involved with some former and current members of the NYPD known as “rockers” – a group of vigilantes who, for a price, do what the “legitimate” cops can’t do – among other things, rid houses of the drug dealers who inhabit them, “evicting” them by whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise.

Beckett’s former partner and best friend, Destiny Jones, returns as well.  The two are not working together any more, as Beckett, an armed robbery specialist and former Medal of Honor winner, had been suspended after drugs were found in his car, and although he was ultimately cleared of all criminal charges and reinstated, he is now assigned to the Building Maintenance section of Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza. To say that he was chafing under that assignment would be to strongly understate the case.  Destiny is having her own problems, with a marriage that is about to implode, and medical problems with an as-yet unknown cause.  The chapters alternate p.o.v., Beckett’s in the first person, Destiny’s in third.  Complications ensue when Beckett accepts a job moonlighting as part of a security detail for a Rupert Murdoch-like mogul, although he suspects there is more there than meets the eye.

The prose is a little rough around edges – but hey, so is Beckett, and he is a terrific protagonist.  The plot is an engrossing one, and the reader has to wonder how much of it, e.g., the existence of the “rockers,” is more than an urban myth, so realistically are they drawn.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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Disturbance
An Irene Kelly Novel
Jan Burke
Simon & Schuster, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5284-3
Hardcover

There are disturbances of the atmospheric kind, and then there are the other kind:  Mental disturbances, the reverberations of their manifestations can last for years in their victims.  As Jan Burke’s long-awaited new book in the Irene Kelly series opens, that journalist’s only real concern is about her employment status:  she is “fully occupied by the distinct possibility that I would be out of a job within a few months.  That didn’t make me different from ninety-nine out of a hundred of the country’s newspaper reporters.” But those worries, real as they are, pale in significance when she learns that the vicious serial killer from whom she had barely escaped with her life in an earlier book in the series, Bones, Nick Parrish, now in his fifties, has escaped from a maximum security prison.  Known to have had as many as fifty victims, including a number of members of the Las Peirnas Police Department – – colleagues and friends of Irene’s husband, detective Frank Harriman – – and as awful as is the prospect of him being at large in general, Irene is the one against whom he has sworn vengeance, holding her responsible for his suffering and his incarceration. Irene is an investigative journalist at the Las Piernas, California News Express.

Irene has finally recovered from the PTSD which her kidnapping and torture at Parrish’s hands – – well, except for the nightmares she still experiences.  Which only return again after his escape and threats from his online fan club, the Moths, serial killer groupies whose members include an unknown number of his born-out-of-wedlock sons, and who all appear to be nearly as deranged as the man they idolize.

After the threats, three things happen in rapid succession:  A young woman named Marilyn Foster is reported missing; her car is discovered parked on Irene’s street; and the body of another woman whose identity cannot be determined is found in the trunk of that car.  When Irene insists there is a connection to Parrish and the police fail to believe that’s possible, Irene sets out on a personal mission:  to find out who the woman is and who is responsible for her murder.  To that end, Irene enlists the aid of her colleague Ethan Shire and Ben Sheridan, the forensic anthropologist who had also been one of Parrish’s victims.

The ensuing investigation results in a book in which the suspense is constant, to which is added the very real possibility of the sadistic violence and sexual assault for which the killer is known.  The novel is fast-faced and tightly plotted.  Plus I came away from reading it with an appreciation of a known truth in astrophysics:  The universe is expanding.  [Read the book.]

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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Ghost Hero
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, October 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-54450-8
Hardcover

Lydia Chin, young New York private investigator, although she is what she refers to as an ABC [American-Born Chinese], cannot imagine why a new client wants to hire her for an investigation dealing with contemporary Chinese art [what he refers to as a “cutting edge collecting area” in the West], freely admitting that she has no clue about art.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to accept his retainer to check out rumors of some new pieces of art by one Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero.  This despite the fact that Chau is believed to have died 20 years ago in the uprising at Tienanmen Square.

This particular artist’s work was known to contain “hidden” political symbols, and the putative new work contains current political references. There is a suspicion, then, that the work is contemporary, not created over two decades earlier.  But the potential value of the Ghost Hero’s “ghost paintings” is enormous, since in the past his work was worth half a million dollars, give or take.

As always with work by this author, there is a full quotient of clever, witty dialogue from clever, witty people – well, a few people in particular: Lydia; her cousin, Linus, tech geek [read “hacker”] extraordinaire; Bill Smith, a mid-fifties white guy [referred to by Lydia’s disapproving mother as the “white baboon” – can you tell she doesn’t like him?], also a p.i. and over the past few years Lydia’s partner; and Jack Lee, a  2d generation ABC from the suburban Midwest and art expert as well as a p.i., in this case having also been hired [by an unnamed client] to investigate the possibility of the existence of the self-same paintings.  The stakes are raised when the investigation sparks the interest of the wrong people, and bullets and threats start to fly.

Parenthetically, I have to admit to some small confusion on my part keeping the Asian names straight, but ultimately that is of small moment, as in the end the author makes everything clear.  Brilliantly plotted, and with protagonists the reader cares about and roots for, the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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Fallen
Karin Slaughter
Delacorte, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-52820-9
Hardcover

In her eleventh novel, Karin Slaughter brings us back to Georgia. Agent Faith Mitchell, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, finds that what started out as a normal workday becomes something else entirely.  [A bit of background:  A cop for 15 years, Faith is a single mom, diabetic, 34 years old, and a former detective with the Atlanta homicide squad; her mother has helped care for Faith’s four-month old baby for the past two months, since Faith went back to work.]  When Faith drives up to the house, she immediately sees a bloody handprint on the front door.  Before the ensuing confrontation is over, three men have been shot to death – two at Faith’s hand; she finds her baby locked in a shed; the house has been ransacked; and her mother is missing.  Faith’s mother, a decorated police officer, had been in charge of the narcotics division, and two of the three dead men appear to be members of a local Hispanic gang known to control the drug trade in Atlanta.

Will Trent, Faith’s old partner in the GBI, is handling the investigation; there is a bit of a conflict of interest at work here: Amanda Wagner, the deputy director and his boss, had been the BFF [before the term existed] of Evelyn Mitchell, Faith’s mother, a 63-year-old widow and a cop for nearly forty years, who had been implicated in a sting operation that had been headed by Will, to weed out dirty cops, part of the upshot of which was her forced retirement.

Will has a complex relationship with Sara Linton, formerly a county coroner and now a pediatric attending physician in the emergency department of a local Atlanta hospital.  Widow of the county’s former police chief, at 5’11”, with red hair, Sara is a striking woman.  The ‘complexity’ of her relationship with Will is due to the fact that he is still married, sort of.  The relationship between him and his wife is strange, to say the least.

The plot is intricate, the main characters each strong yet vulnerable; the book is a wholly satisfying, fast read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

Book Review: The Affair by Lee Child

The Affair
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, September 2011
ISBN 9780385344326
Hardcover

Jack Reacher fans celebrate! Step back in time to read the case that separated the man from the military. Uncover secrets and lies and do so in the unique Child style we’ve come to expect. Reacher is the intelligent, tough guy with Sherlock Holmes type deductive reasoning. He’s patriotic, no nonsense, and determined to see a case through to the end, letting the chips fall where they will.

It’s 1997. Major Jack Reacher is assigned to go undercover in a small northeastern Mississippi town where a woman has been raped and murdered. Reacher is to make nice with the local police to monitor the investigation, especially in relation to the nearby military base where there is no shortage of suspects. Almost immediately upon arriving in town, Reacher meets the county sheriff, Elizabeth Deveraux, former Marine and beautiful woman. She understands Reacher’s role because she’s familiar with how the military operates. With no word from the investigator on the base, Reacher and Deveraux begin sifting through anomalies and clues in the case. Soon, Reacher must deal with not one dead woman, but three, all murdered in the last nine months. While military personnel do everything to cover their backsides, Reacher uses logic, his subtle but steady investigative process and his contacts in Washington, D.C. to ferret out the truth.

If you’re a veteran to Child, you know this one is going to be another good one. His unique writing style is logical, clinical, precise. Child’s portrayal of the military is truthful, unabashed, and his humor is well-timed. He knows how to slowly peel back the layers revealing a little at a time. If you’re new to Child, then be prepared to set aside large chunks of time to read. The Affair is one of those types of stories where you’ll want to continue nonstop to the end, then blank your memory and start over again. This is another winner.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, November 2011.