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 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: Blue Madonna by James R. Benn and The Fixer by Joseph Finder

blue-madonnaBlue Madonna
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #11
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-642-4
Hardcover

Billy Boyle has received all kinds of assignments in his capacity as a special investigator on Eisenhower’s staff. But few, if any, match the bizarre task before him in the Blue Madonna.  To begin with, he is arrested, tried on trumped up charges and stripped of his Captaincy and sentenced to time in the stockade for black market activities.  (This, of course, a subterfuge to provide a cover story as part of an investigation.)  Then he is sent behind enemy lines to rescue a downed airman who is needed to testify against a black market gang.

No sooner does Billy arrive in occupied France than he finds himself investigating two murders of airmen being hidden in a chateau.  And he even participates in partisan operations, blowing up railroad tracks and bridges.

The Billy Boyle series takes him through various phases of World War II.  This novel takes place as Allied troops sail for Normandy on D-Day, giving the author the opportunity to describe conditions in Occupied France, how the partisans operated, and what was done to return downed airmen through clandestine networks.  The Blue Madonna, a valuable piece of art, is an example of how many Jews and others attempted to prevent the Nazis from stealing their possessions by hiding them in such places as the chateau, which also secreted parachuted Allied fliers.

As were the first 10 books in the series, Blue Madonna is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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the-fixerThe Fixer
Joseph Finder
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-4514-7257-3
Mass Market Paperback

What would you do if by some off-chance you broke into a wall in your home and discovered $3.7 million in cash?  That is the good luck that befalls Rick Hoffman, erstwhile unemployed journalist.  And then the bad luck follows.  Rick begins to wonder where the money came from.  He can’t ask his father, whose house it was, because the latter was left speechless and partially paralyzed by a stroke about two decades before.  Rick was once an investigative journalist, and uses these talents to find answers.

He soon discovers that his attorney father was a fixer, paying off various persons to ward off claims against powerful Boston figures.   And for his efforts he is beaten severely, almost killing him, as was his father before him, to stop Rick from pursuing his investigation.  But he perseveres.

The story moves ahead in a straightforward manner, with each step along the way uncovering additional information, until Rick can prove where the money came from and why.  But more importantly, as Rick explains, he continues because he wants to know how the story ends.  And so will you.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: Dick Francis’s Refusal by Felix Francis

Dick Francis's RefusalDick Francis’s Refusal
Felix Francis
Putnam, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-399-16081-3
Hardcover

It’s been six years since investigator Sid Halley retired, tired of the beatings, pressure and danger. Since then, he has lived a quiet life with his wife and young daughter, earning a living as an investor, trading money instruments and shares. He promised himself and his wife that he would not return to his former profession, but events proved the opposite when the chairman of the racing authority begged him to look into a series of questionable races.

Following a familiar Francis formula, circumstances arise which force Sid to reverse his adamant refusal to undertake such an investigation. The day after his meeting, the chairman is found dead, a possible suicide, but Sid believes really murder. Then a telephone call from a man with a Belfast Irish accent menacingly demands that Sid write a report claiming the races were not suspicious. Thus, the stage is set for the expected scrutiny, danger to Sid, his family and associates, and confrontation with the culprits.

The formula, which has been successful for about four dozen books by the Francises, pere et fils, works like a charm once again. Felix had now written four novels as a co-author with Dick, and this is the third one on his own. Looking forward with bated breath for the fourth.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2014.

Book Reviews: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins, Good Bait by John Harvey, Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell, and Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman

The Lost OnesThe Lost Ones
Ace Atkins
Putnam, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-15876-6
Hardcover

Quinn Colson first appeared in The Ranger, and now, in this follow-up novel, faces a couple of situations that really put him to the test.  As sheriff in a northern Mississippi county, he has to apply not only the skills he learned in the army, but a lot of common sense and a certain amount of diplomatic talent.

First, a high school friend recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan now runs a local gun shop and shooting range.  Colson suspects him to be the source of U.S. Army rifles which turn up in the hands of a Mexican gang.  Meanwhile, a case involving an abused child leads Colson to discovering a bootleg baby racket.  While raiding the place where the babies are being kept before they’re sold, Colson and his deputy, Lillie Virgil, discover that the two cases somehow converge.

As the investigation progresses, lots of action takes place, sometimes reminding the reader of an actual military operation, led by General Colson, rather than sheriff Colson.  The characters are colorfully drawn, and the dialogue is vibrant.  The novel is sort of a cross between an old-fashioned western and a modern day crime novel and reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Good BaitGood Bait
John Harvey
Pegasus, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-605-98378-3
Hardcover

There are two main story lines, and two cases for the cops to pursue, in this newest novel from John Harvey.  The first is the murder in Hampstead Heath of a 17-year-old Moldovan boy, assigned to DCI Karen Shields and the Homicide & Serious Crime team.  The second falls to DI Trevor Cordon of the Devon and Cornwall Police in Exeter, when a woman he’d known is killed under the wheels of an oncoming train, whether suicide, accident or murder is unknown.  Though not strictly his problem, he takes time off the job to investigate it, as the woman in question was known to him from years back and is the mother of a girl who, though many years his junior, he knew and by whom he was intrigued all those years before. There is the tantalizing question of whether or not these two events are connected.

This is, of course, at least nominally, a police procedural, and quite a good one, although the multitude of characters, both ‘bad guys’ and good, were often difficult for me to keep track of.  But of course, being a John Harvey novel, it is much more than that.  That title, for one instance, is, typically of a Harvey protagonist, the title of a jazz tune of which Cordon collects every known recording, from Miles Davis to Nina Simone to Dexter Gordon.  It is also a character study of the lead cops, entirely different from one another:  Karen, a black woman from Jamaica, and Trevor, fifty-ish, with an ex-wife and a grown son from whom he’s been estranged but who he believes is now living somewhere in Australia.  The author philosophizes about what makes these cops tick:  if it’s “the mystery, the need to see things through to their conclusion, find out how they’d been put together, how they ticked.  Wasn’t that one of the reasons people became detectives?” and about “missed chances.  Roads not taken. Relationships allowed to drift.  Always that nagging question, what if, what if?”  Another terrific Harvey novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Watching the DarkWatching the Dark
Peter Robinson
Morrow, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-200480-2
Hardcover

The 20th entry in the wonderful Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson opens with the shocking killing of one of Banks’ colleagues, a decorated detective inspector, on the grounds of St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, where he was a patient.  The Major Crimes Unit, or Homicide and Major Inquiry Team, as it was now known, operating out of Eastvale, is assigned, the investigative team once again including DS Winsome Jackman (“all six feet something of her”), DC Gerry Masterson, and DI Annie Cabbot, Banks’ close friend, who is just returning from a convalescence after having survived her own brutal wounds and subsequent convalescence in events described in a prior entry in the series.

Because there had recently been a hint of police corruption, Inspector Joanna Passero, of Professional Standards [the equivalent of the American IAB], is assigned to work with Banks.  Their working relationship, perhaps understandably, is an ambivalent one, at least initially.  Very shortly, another murder takes place, and there are indications that the two killings may be related.  Another angle that comes into play is a six-year-old cold case involving Rachel Hewitt, a 19-year-old English girl who seemingly “disappeared off the face of the earth” in Tallinn, Estonia, a case that had haunted the dead inspector for the intervening years, having been involved in the investigation at its inception in Tallinn.

The author expertly juxtaposes the lines of investigation, with Annie and her colleagues handling the Eastvale aspect of the case, and Banks the second killing, which appears to involve illegal migrant labor activities, ultimately taking him to Estonia, though he is warned not to get diverted by the Hewitt case.  Following his instincts, as always, Banks is determined to do his best to bring closure to the girl’s parents if at all possible.  A complex plot, carried off in smooth fashion, in a book that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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A Cup Full of M idnightA Cup Full of Midnight
Jaden Terrell
Permanent Press, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-57962-225-1
Hardcover

Jared McKean, 36 years of age and now a private detective after seven years with the Nashville Metro Police Department, has gone, as he describes it, from “uniformed patrol officer to undercover vice officer to homicide detective to outsider.”  Now he has his most important client ever:  his nephew, Josh.  Josh and his sister, 14-year-old Caitlin, are as close to him as anyone in his life, the boy feeling closer to him than to his own father. Lately Josh’s life has been in a state of upheaval, having not long ago come out of the closet and left home to live with Sebastian Parker, known as “Razor,” the sociopath who’d seduced him [a man in his late 20’s to Josh’s 16]. After the latter’s murder a few days before, Josh had attempted suicide, and now ‘hires’ Jared to find out who killed Razor.  No simple task, since he seems to have engendered hatred in most everyone whose path he crossed.  In what appears to be a ritual killing, he had been slashed to death, emasculated, eviscerated, and his body placed on a pentagram, surrounded by occult symbols.

The novel is a cautionary tale of disenchanted youth and the Goth sub-culture, “vampire wannabees.”  I was initially – but only initially – unsure whether this was a book for me, agreeing with the protagonist when he says “I didn’t believe in magic spells or voodoo curses.  I didn’t believe in vampires or witches or things that go bump in the night.  The only monsters I had ever seen were human.”

This is the second in the Jared McKean series, following the terrific Racing the Devil, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Jared’s “ex” hits the nail on the head in explaining why she couldn’t stay married to him, citing his career choice:  “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are. You’re a hero waiting for something to die for.”  Jared is a fascinating protagonist.  Still on good terms with his ex-wife [now re-married and in her ninth month of pregnancy], they are both devoted to their eight-year-old Down Syndrome son, Paulie.  He shares a ranch with his best childhood friend, Jay, now battling AIDS, and his three horses:  Dakota, the rescued Arabian; Crockett, the Tennessee Walker; and Tex, the palomino gelding Quarter Horse. As the investigation continues, several suspects emerge, and Jared’s investigation puts his life, and that of his nephew, at risk, and he becomes even more relentless.  Well-plotted, the book has more than one heart-stopping moment.  It was a very good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.

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Chance of a GhostChance of a Ghost
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25168-3
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the fourth Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious ten-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths.  It would seem that Alison and her daughter, as well as her mother, are the only ones who can see the ghosts.

At Paul’s urging, Alison had obtained a private-investigator’s license, and her services as such are sought by her mother’s own ghostly friend, who wants Alison to find out who killed him.  While his death six months previously was deemed to have been of natural causes, he is convinced he was murdered.  The investigation morphs into a search for the ghost of Alison’s father, who died five years ago, but whose ghost has been strangely absent of late.  She is aided in her efforts by her mother, her daughter, her best friend Jeannie, and her present [living] houseguest, who is a retired cop and delighted at the opportunity to do what he did best, and misses a lot, as well as by Paul and Maxie [who Alison refers to as her  two “non-breathing squatters”].

As with every book in the series, this newest entry contains the same unbeatable combination:  a terrific plot and great if quirky humor [if you like that sort of thing – and I do!!].  I particularly loved the line about the heating system in Alison’s ancient Volvo, which was “roughly as efficient as the United States Congress, which is to say it made a lot of noise but got very little done.”  The protagonist’s slightly bemused attitude toward the apparent fact that ghosts actually exist, and that some people could see/hear them, seems perfectly reasonable.  This book, as were the earlier entries in the series, is thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Reviews: Not Dead Yet by Peter James, The Destroyed by Brett Battles, Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman, and Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Not Dead YetNot Dead Yet
Peter James
Pan Macmillan
UK: Hardcover, June, 2012, ISBN 978-0-230-74726-5
UK: Paperback, Sept. 2012, ISBN 978-0-33051-557-3
US,  Minotaur, Nov. 27, 2012, ISBN 978-0-31264-284-6, Hardcover

This is a tale of obsession, in all its infinite variety and manifestations, some more lethal than others but mostly just a matter of degree, with neither gender being excluded from its clutches. There are enough seriously disturbed characters here to populate several novels, in a few different story lines.

The main plot deals with the discovery of an unidentifiable body whose headless, armless and legless torso is discovered on a chicken farm in East Sussex.  As if that isn’t enough, the area is faced with an at once wonderful and problematic event:  a major American superstar [think Lady Gaga, in fact the fictional counterpart is named Gaia] is about to arrive from Los Angeles, with her entourage and film crew, to Brighton, England, the city where she was born, to star in a film which will chronicle the love affair between King George the Fourth and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. Needless to say, her hordes of obsessed fans converge on the city as well.

A second story line revolves around another obsessive, the target of this one none other than DS Roy Grace, in charge of the Major Crime Branch of Sussex CID.  But a resolution, if any, of that one awaits a successive novel, I suspect.  The personal lives of Grace and of Glenn Branson, to whom Grace is a mentor, get a lot of the focus in this, the eighth series entry, as Grace’s fiancée, Cleo, is in her last month of pregnancy, and Branson, who has become a “long-stay lodger” in Grace’s house since the latter moved in with Cleo, is facing child custody problems in the aftermath of his now-dead “marriage-from-hell.”

Cavil:  It bothered me when, as happened frequently, the p.o.v. jumped around, sometimes without identifying the person from whose point of view the chapter was being told.  I assume this was intentional, but it was somewhat disconcerting.  As well, I felt that perhaps the first two-thirds of the book was somewhat bloated and repetitive, causing this reader’s attention to wander, a first for any of this author’s books.  No wandering attention in the approximately last third of the book, I hasten to add, when the plot lines start to come together with more than one climactic scene, with a finish you’ll never see coming. All in all, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

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The DestroyedThe Destroyed
Brett Battles
Brett Battles, March 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4776-3551-3
Trade Paperback

In my last review of a Brett Battles novel (The Collected, published in October of 2012, and the seventh and penultimate [so far] entry in this series), I noted that Jonathan Quinn, the protagonist whose job it is to discreetly clean up crime scenes, remove bodies and get rid of nasty, incriminating stuff like blood, and his protégé, Nate, had become colleagues, rather than mentor and apprentice.  In this, the sixth Quinn book, the reader finds out how that came about.

The tale opens in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when a man keeps an appointment scheduled through an enigmatic e-mail from what is apparently a non-existent address.  A fateful meeting it is, as the man soon falls [jumps?  is pushed?]  to his death just as he is about to keep his appointment with one Mila Voss, the person who is central to the fascinating plot fashioned here.  [Note that this occurs on page 21 of the book, so no spoiler here.] When security cameras show a disguised but recognizable Mila rushing to the spot where the body landed, a furor is raised in “the secret world”: The woman was supposed to have been killed six years ago, and Quinn was the one tasked with disposing of the body, which he duly reported he had done. Conspiracies, corruption in high places, powerful men who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, all combine to serve up another terrific thriller.

In addition to Tanzania, the story takes the reader to Stockholm, Sweden; Lucerne, Switzerland; London; Rome; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Atlanta, Georgia; Virginia; and, early on, to Bangkok, where Quinn took refuge nearly nine months prior following the events in the prior series entry.  That self-banishment gave rise to Nate becoming “a full-fledged cleaner, running Quinn’s business on his own.”  As Quinn notes when Nate succeeds in tracking him down, “There was something older about Nate, his edges sharper and more defined.  There was a confidence, too.  While Nate undoubtedly had more to learn, he was now a professional who could stand on his own.”

Those who have not yet read the subsequent series entry, The Collected, should waste no time correcting that situation.  Both of these are wonderful, suspense-filled reads, and are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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PotboilerPotboiler
Jesse Kellerman
Putnam, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-15903-9
Hardcover

The reader has an inkling of what’s in store from the cover of Jesse Kellerman’s new book, which appears to show a typewriter keyboard of sorts, the various keys or buttons displaying words such as “assassinate,” “coup d’etat,” and “war.”

The first page of the book is filled with what appear to be blurbs by no less eminent writers than Stephen King, Lee Child, Robert Crais and various highly respected reviewers, which on closer inspection are very funny and relate to books written by one William deVallee, “noted author of more than thirty internationally best-selling thrillers” whose protagonist is one Dick Stapp.  The protagonist of Potboiler is Art Pfefferkorn, who had known deVallee longer than anyone, including his wife [with whom, it should be said, Pfefferkorn had been in love].  The two men, best friends, had thirty years ago both been aspiring writers.  While Bill had achieved great fame, Pfefferkorn had only had one book published.

The book takes off in a completely different direction at about one-third of the way through, part satire, part fantasy.  Devious, unsettling and frightening things begin to happen.  There are several memorable lines regarding writing, e.g., “good novels enlarged on reality while bad novels leaned on it” and “If one could not express something in an original way, one ought not to express it at all,” and points out the “similarities between spying and writing:  Both called for stepping into an imagined world and residing there with conviction, nearly to the point of self-delusion.  Both were jobs that outsiders thought of as exotic but that were in practice quite tedious.”

A highly original and delightful read, Potboiler is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Bear is BrokenBear is Broken
Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press / Grove/Atlantic, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-8021-2079-3
Hardcover

Leo Maxwell has just formally become a member of the California State Bar. He is a man who does not think “ethical criminal defense attorney” is an oxymoron, perhaps putting him in the minority, certainly among the San Francisco police and the District Attorney’s office.  His older brother, Teddy, is a member of that fraternity, a brilliant lawyer and one of the most sought-after criminal defense attorneys in northern California.  As the two men share a lunch while on a break from the trial just nearing its conclusion, with Teddy’s closing argument due that afternoon, a man enters the restaurant and shoots Teddy in the head at point-blank range, then quickly exits before anyone can make a move.

So begins this first novel from Lachlan Smith, apparently the first in a series, and an impressive debut it is.  Teddy lies in the hospital in a coma, and both Leo as well as Teddy’s ex-wife and former law partner, Jeanie, now working at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office, are left to grapple with the prognosis and the knowledge that they may at some point in the not-too-distant future have to decide whether to remove him from life-support systems.  But the most urgent task for Leo is to find the gunman.  His first move is to examine all his brother’s case files, to see if a disgruntled client, or a victim or witness in one of his headline-making cases has sought revenge.  There are several viable suspects as his investigation continues.

Leo has been haunted most of his life by the death of their mother 16 years before (“the abscess at the center of his life”), apparently at the hands of her husband, the boys’ father.  It was Leo who at age ten had returned from school to find her badly beaten body, the weapon Leo’s baseball bat. Despite having protested his innocence, the father was convicted and is serving a life term at San Quentin.

Leo must prove himself, to others and to himself, having been raised by and stayed in the shadow of his well-known, and in many circles reviled, brother.  In his insecurity, as a youngster he had a Batman symbol tattooed on his upper left arm.

I loved the author’s description of a nurse in the hospital as having “the self-sufficient look of someone who spent most of her time with people who didn’t talk back.”  Deftly plotted, the only flaw this reader found was perhaps too many possible culprits, in what turns out to be three killings, by the end getting a slight case of whiplash as the novel names one, and then another and then another, and the possibility that one, or perhaps more than one, is guilty.  That said, the novel is a fast and engrossing read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.