Book Review: Dying for the Past by TJ O’Connor and The Egyptian File by Janis Susan May

Dying for the PastDying for the Past
A Gumshoe Ghost Mystery #2
TJ O’Connor
Midnight Ink, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4206-9
Trade Paperback

First of all, the detective is dead. He’s the ghost of a cop, shot in the previous book, which I am about to read because I really enjoyed this one.

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker attends the charity ball organized by his widow at Vincent House, during which someone shoots a mysterious guest dead. Chaos ensues, of course, as wealthy guests panic and someone steals the donations. Tuck’s old partner and his troops fight to bring order. No one saw the shooter. No one even knows if the corpse was the target, as his wife received two threatening letters–or said she did. Tuck’s investigating when he’s pulled into a time-warp by Vincent Calabrese, the dead gangster who previously owned the house. “Bring me the book, or else,” Vincent says, and the chase is on.

What is the book? Who has it. Does it have anything to do with the murder? Tuck needs to find out.

Tuck doesn’t know why he’s a ghost, or why his widow Angel and his big black lab, Hercule, can hear him. So can Bear, his old partner, though he won’t admit it. Tuck does know that if he must, he’s willing to die again to protect his wife and his friends. With threats both normal and paranormal, with old family secrets exploding and old crimes coming to light, this book careens from surprise to surprise. It’s suspenseful, it’s funny, it’s well worth reading.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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The Egyptian FileThe Egyptian File
Janis Susan May
Sefkhat-Awbi Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-941520-08-6
Trade Paperback

An exotic locale, a desperate art expert and a handsome Egyptologist star in this story of romantic suspense from Janis Susan May. Melissa Warrender was estranged from her father for years, so when he offered her a partnership in his Manhattan art gallery, she leapt at the chance to work with him. He was a specialist in antiquities, she in seventeenth and eighteenth century European paintings.

Melissa receives a phone call which sounds like her father, telling her to retrieve a mysterious file in Cairo. But how can this be—she buried her father months ago. Is he alive, or is someone playing a trick on her? She does not realize that she is targeted both by her father’s rival in the antiquities business and an international task force set up to catch smugglers.

David El-Baradi is a professor of Egyptology in London, currently in Cairo to help the task force. He goes undercover as a taxi driver to help Melissa evade the murderous son of her father’s rival. Melissa’s file turns out to be a message written in hieroglyphs, and David convinces her that he is an underemployed scholar who can help her. But on their trail is Gerard Thenardier, son of her father’s rival and her former lover.

It’s an Indiana Jones-type adventure, with a steamy romance thrown in. The author dedicates the book to Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), author of the Amelia Peabody series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Review: Devil With A Gun by M.C. Grant

Devil With A GunDevil With A Gun
A Dixie Flynn Mystery
M.C. Grant
Midnight Ink, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-7387-3499-6
Trade Paperback

Dixie Flynn is a journalist for a San Francisco newspaper. She’s known for getting the story, even if she has to bend a few rules and put herself in danger to do it. When the new boss demands she write a Father’s Day fluff piece, she rebels–not unusual–and picks up on a story of a father gone missing many years in the past. One daughter wants to know what happened to her father, whom she remembers fondly. A second daughter, thrown into a life of abuse and prostitution, blames the father and doesn’t care. Altogether, a Father’s Day story worthy of Dixie’s talents.

There’s another problem. The missing father has a connection to a notorious Russian mobster and he doesn’t take kindly to Dixie nosing around.

Dixie walks right into danger, although she’s not alone in her search for a good story. She’s a woman with a number of offbeat friends and allies, for instance, a bookie known as Eddie the Wolf; her drinking buddy Frank, a SFP detective; Benny, who keeps her in guns. But most valuable in this caper is Pinch, a jockey-sized hitman who’ll do anything to keep Dixie alive.

Lots of brutality in this one, but the violence is tempered with humor. Fast paced, twisty, the story will keep you turning pages. The bad guys, even the Russian mobster, are well-drawn and interesting in their own right. I might even call them quirky, a label generally reserved for the good guys.

Dixie is a great character. This is the first mystery featuring her I’ve read, but I hope there are many more in the works.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Reviews: The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne, Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane and Reapers by Frederick Ramsay

The Final Reckoning
Sam Bourne
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-187574-8
Hardcover

Truth and fiction merge in this thriller about survivors of the holocaust taking justice into their own hands, seeking out Nazis and murdering them.  It comes to light when the last survivor of DIN, the secret group of Jewish resistance fighters (yes, there were some) and concentration camp inmates after the war, travels to the UN in New York from London on his last mission and is shot by a security guard.

Tom Byrne, a former UN attorney now in private practice, is retained to go to London, visit the victim’s daughter, and attempt to smooth over any claim she might have.  Instead, he becomes both romantically involved with her and involved in a scheme that eventually has severe repercussions.

Written based on actual people and events of the past, the novel provides emotional ups and downs almost equal in intensity to the horrors of “the final solution.”  It concludes with a suspense that is equally gripping, with solid prose and excellent pacing, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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

Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-183692-3
Hardcover

There is no denying that Dennis Lehane writes unusual and well-plotted novels.  Yet Moonlight Mile is a difficult book to read, confusing and inconsistent.  It may be the last of the Patrick and Angie series, since they seem to be tired of the PI business, and he is leaning toward leaving the business to undertake a new endeavor.

The plot is relatively simple.  Patrick promises to look for a missing 16-year-old girl, one he had found many years before her present disappearance.  Angie, who was a full-time mommy to three-year-old Gabby, turns the child over to a neighbor to assist Patrick in the endeavor. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of psycho Russian mobsters to enliven the caper.

The characters seem like cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the dialog appears stilted.  These characteristics are unusual in a Lehane novel. Oh well, on to the next one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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

Reapers
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59508-806-2
Hardcover

There are some excellent South African novels.  Frederick Ramsay has a particular interest in Botswana, and this is the second novel in what appears to be a burgeoning series featuring an up-and-coming Inspector, Modise, and Ranger, Sanderson.  With the World Cup about to begin in South Africa, various unsavory sorts are spread all over the landscape and Botswana’s officials are up to their eyeballs trying to establish security for visiting dignitaries like a secret meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and North Koreans, as well as Russian Mafia types seeking to move into the territory, especially a world class casino-hotel being buily by an American in the Chobe river.

To complicate matters, there are some environmental fanatics seeking to spread Orgonite, an ostensible source of energy, to the area, a couple of ne’er-do-wells seeking to cash in on a rare earth shipment, and some murders to occupy the protagonists, not to mention local bribery, smuggling and other side issues.

This highly readable series reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the country, perhaps derived from his son who is an official there. Ramsay authored the popular Ike Schwartz mysteries, which this reviewer also thoroughly enjoyed [and hope he hasn’t forgotten the sheriff].

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

Book Reviews–And Now It’s Gloria Feit’s Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.

Book Reviews–And Now It's Gloria Feit's Turn

So Cold the River
Michael Koryta
Back Bay Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780316053648
Trade Paperback

Michael Koryta‘s latest novel* starts out innocently enough.  Eric Shaw, in his recent former life an LA cinematographer before that career crashed and burned and now in his early thirties, has for the past two years lived in Chicago, trying to make a living filming memorial videos for presentation at funerals.  He is approached by a beautiful young woman who asks him to prepare such a video in honor of her father-in-law, a famously reclusive billionaire, ninety-five years old and near death in a hospital.  She offers Eric a very generous amount of money to travel to Southern Indiana to trace his early years in furtherance of the project.  The only artifact of her father-in-law which she can provide is a small flask of water which derived from underground mineral springs, now apparently defunct, and known as Pluto Water, which had been touted as having nearly miraculous healing powers.

Before leaving, Eric visits the old man in the hospital.  Initially unresponsive, the first intimations of what is to come occur when what Eric sees through the viewfinder of his camera are not what his eyes had just seen, but instead the essence of that on which, or who, they focused. Enigmatically, the old man says to Eric, “so cold the river.” Or does he?

Eric goes to the town in question, West Baden Springs, and finds himself unable to resist tasting the water from the strange little bottle he has been given.  The results are immediate, chaotic, and nearly addictive, and his life, and the book, goes off in strange, surreal directions.  In the aftermath Eric, who has a history of psychic tendencies, has visions, encounters dead people, and sees scenes from the past apparently reenacted before his eyes.

Throughout, there are ominous signs of an impending storm of perhaps historical proportions.

Somewhat daunted by the book’s sizeable heft, and by my usual aversion to most things Gothic or which invoke the supernatural, I nonetheless
found the pages turning rapidly, completely swept up in the tale the author has spun, so masterful is the writing, and I recommend it highly as another terrific book by Michael Koryta.

*Actually, his next novel, “The Cypress House,” was released on January 24, 2011.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Bury Your Dead
Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-37704-5
Hardcover

The book takes place in and around Quebec City, Canada, where the dwindling Anglophone community feels it is still fighting wars 250 years in the past.  One which the English had won, “securing Quebec for the English, on paper,” but not so in actuality.  Even beyond the strong separatist feelings, there is a great deal of animosity between the two cultures [Francophones being the other], down to the refusal of most of its citizens to learn the language of the other.  As the Quebecois say, “je me souviens,” I remember.  We are told that “not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

The plot deals with two present-day murders, and the author teases the reader by alternating the chapters between the two investigations – indeed, three, as there is another involving deeds, and a dead body, from over a century ago.  A great deal of fascinating history is provided, regarding events of which I do not hesitate to admit that I [and I suspect many other non-Canadians] was unaware.

Inspector Gamache, “head of the most prestigious homicide unit in Canada, the Surete du Quebec,” returns in his sixth appearance.  This time around he is literally and figuratively scarred and haunted by recent events, a deadly incident involving the murder of one Surete officer and the kidnapping of another, pitting Gamache up against his superior officer who refuses to consider a scenario other than the one which he perceives to be the correct one in order to try to rescue their endangered colleague.   Now on leave, and haunted by the tragic outcome of the incident, Gamache is told by a trusted mentor that everything will heal, “avec le temps,” with time.

Gamache is described as “a man who preferred good books and long walks to any other activity.”  He also has a strong sense of justice, and feels duty bound to take another look at the case which was at the center of The Brutal Telling, the prior entry in the series, the murder of a hermit in the charming village of Three Pines, despite the fact that the man he had arrested for the murder was convicted and is presently serving his sentence.

The pace of the novel is a leisurely one, and although I could not figure out why I found it so slow-moving, I must say it gave me that much greater an opportunity to enjoy the charming prose.  The three prongs of the tale are all deftly and satisfyingly resolved, and Inspector Gamache is once more shown to be a clever and very human police officer.  Very enjoyable, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Rogue Island
Bruce DeSilva
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2726-0
Hardcover

According to the author’s introductory words to this novel, he received a note in 1994 about a story he had written for the newspaper where he worked as a reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, suggesting that it could serve as the outline for a novel.  He did begin to write such a book, only to put it aside because of personal problems.  The note was from Evan Hunter (Ed McBain).  A couple of years ago, the author met Otto Penzler who, when he learned about the note, said: “Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote . . .  you’ve got to finish that novel.”

And we can all thank Otto Penzler and the late Evan Hunter for their encouragement.  This debut novel merits their praise, and then some. It is witty, well-paced, entertaining, cynical, and worthy of its nomination for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Liam Mulligan is a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a Providence daily, who closely pursues a story on a series of fires in a small neighborhood that turn out to be cases of arson, resulting not only in destruction of property but fatalities.  It is up to Mulligan to uncover not only the schemes behind these crimes, but the corruption endemic to the State of Rhode Island, and specifically its capital, giving rise to the title of the novel.  No more about the plot, because you have to read the book.  And enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Beat
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Forge, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2295-1
Trade Paperback

This, it should be stated, is not an easy book to read.  It is, at the same time, completely compelling and nearly impossible to put down. An anomaly, it would seem.

The protagonist, LA Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass, is many things:   unpredictable, often exhibiting self-destructive behavior [if not actually harboring a death wish], fiendish impulses and extreme violence.  It is sex-filled, as befits a tale whose protag is a sex addict.  He has even named his dark side – his inner addict – Rufus, putting one in mind of Dexter’s Dark Passenger.

Glass’ recent history is daunting:  He has received the Medal of Valor and then, off the record, ordered into a six-month medical leave with psychiatric care, talk therapy, and mandatory attendance at meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-step program similar to other such groups.  His addiction has also caused the end of his marriage.  On medical leave for two months as the book opens, Glass finds himself in San Francisco and obviously out of his jurisdiction.  He is soon stepping on the toes of both the SFPD and the FBI as he searches for a girl by whom he is obsessed, a young prostitute apparently in the clutches of two different factions of the Russian mob.  Police corruption soon becomes evident, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, and at first only succeeds in further endangering the girl.

Detective Glass made his first appearance in Boulevard, which I have not yet read.  Since I assume it may be several months until a follow-up novel appears, I think I’ll need to get my next dose of Mr. Schwartz’ fiction well before that.  It would seem that it’s very easy to fall prey to an addiction.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.

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

Gone
Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1964-3
Hardcover

DI Jack Caffery, an 18-year-veteran of the Murder Squad and presently head of Bristol’s Major Crime Investigation Unit, returns at a point six months after the events described in the author’s last novel, Skin. As the book opens, on a cold November night, Caffery is called to the scene of a carjacking in an underground car park, something one would not consider a case for the MCIU until it becomes known that an 11-year-old girl was in the car when it was taken.

Caffery puts a team together:  DC Prody, just coming off four years as a traffic cop; DS Paluzzi [nicknamed “Lollapalooza”], DS Turner, and at some point Phoebe [“Flea”] Marley, now a support-group sergeant who also runs the Underwater Search Unit.  [“She’d got her dumb nickname as a child because people told her she never looked before she leaped.  And because of her irritating, incurable energy.”]  There are secrets in both Caffery’s and Flea’s lives that play in the back of their thoughts, coincidentally both involving siblings; children at risk are also a large part of the plot.  The investigation takes a different turn when Flea tells Caffery there have been two other incidents closely following the same pattern, and they realize this was not just a random act.

The characters are very well-drawn and intriguing, especially Flea, who remembers her father telling her as a child “We don’t give up in this family.  It’s against the Marley code.  Ancient belief system.  Bad things happen when you do – – it’s like flying in the face of nature.”  And that persistent nature is a good part of what makes her such a terrific cop, and fascinating individual.

The reader is kept rapt for more or less the first half of the book just by the mystery of the identity of the hijacker, and what he may have done to the child [shudder].  Then there is a sudden shift in intensity, as the plot takes unexpected and quite startling twists and turns, and from that point on I could not put the book down till its conclusion, breath held a good part of the way there.  [I should add that my vocabulary has been enlarged by the terms “elasticated,” lumpenly,” and “forensicated,” which may just be a matter of Brit-speak.]

Happily, the final few pages hint of a return of Caffery and Flea, and one can only hope it will be soon.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2011.

A Ted Feit Book Review Trio

Portobello
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, 2010
ISBN: 978-4391-4851-8
Hardcover

This is not an easy book to read.  Nor is it a mystery.  It is a somewhat disjointed story of some disparate characters joined only by the Portobello, a winding street in London filled with stalls and shops where one can find almost anything at any price.

The novel alternates telling about each of the characters, sort of in turn, and how, in the end, their lives kind of intertwine.  There is Eugene Wren, a fastidious personality who becomes addicted to a sugar-free sucking candy, a habit that could cost him his fianceé, Dr. Ella Costend.  Then there is a minor thief, Lance, who is arrested for an arson and murder, but not for his burglaries.  Lance’s girlfriend and grandfather play important roles in his life, along with here live-in mate, Fize and his friend, Ian.  Ella’s private patient Joel, who has a near-death experience during a heart operation, provides the author the opportunity to delve into deep psychological issues.

There is little plot to speak of, only descriptions of the Portobello neighborhood and the actions of the individuals, either by themselves or in relation to each other.  Except for Joel, who has almost no relationship with anyone except his doctor and no role in the erstwhile story.  It is easy to wonder while reading the book what it is all about; at least, until in the final pages, when it all seems to come together.  On that basis, as well as for the beautiful writing, Portobello is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.

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

Operation Napoleon
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Harvill Secker, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-846-55285-4
Trade Paperback (UK)

Long before there were Erlender and Sigurdur Oll, Arnaldur Indridason wrote this imaginative novel.  In fact, it was copyrighted a decade ago, and only now has been published in Great Britain and Canada.  (U.S. publication is scheduled for the fall of 2011, and the next Reykjavic Murder Mystery, Outrage, is to be published in the UK in 2011.)  It is a pity we have had to wait this long for an English translation of this work, but all the more reason to be grateful that that has now been done.

Just before the end of World War II a German bomber crashes on a large Icelandic glacier with American and German officers aboard.  One of the senior German officers attempts to reach a nearby farm, while the others remain on the plane only to be buried by a blizzard and ice; then he disappears as well.

Over 50 years later, after a few failed attempts to find the plane by U.S. intelligence, they are finally successful, and a secret mission is undertaken to remove the plane and its contents..  Coincidentally, two young Icelanders on the glacier in a training mission spot the Americans and are captured, one killed and the other seriously injured.  Before the capture, one of the men had contacted his sister, Kristin.  She undertakes to discover the truth of her brother’s fate, placing herself in danger in the process.

The tense plot follows Kristin as she challenges the Americans in an effort to find out what happened to her brother, leading her on an arduous journey to learn the facts of Operation Napoleon. The descriptions of the various elements of the story are overwhelming: the freezing weather, the subterfuge of the Americans, the divergent views of Icelanders vis-à-vis relations with United States authorities, and other conflicts.  Written with a sharpness to which we have become accustomed from this author, the novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.

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Our Kind of Traitor
John le Carre
Viking, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-670-02224-3
Hardcover

This novel could easily have been entitled The Money Launderer Who
Tried to Come in Out of the Cold
.  It is the story of Dima, a Russian gangster, the Mickey Cohen of the Russian Mafia, who launders all the billions amassed in illegal activities.  He makes contact with a visiting English couple on holiday in Antigua and leads them to contact British intelligence in an effort to defect with his extended family, exposing his erstwhile cohorts, as well as British politicians and notables.

The plot evolves around plans to extract Dima et al by a few intelligence operatives who not only have to free the Russians, but fight their own organization’s superiors.  The characterizations of each of the principals is outstanding, with the foibles, strengths and weaknesses of each displayed to the utmost.  That’s more than can be said for the various subjects under study: money laundering, banking, the Mumbai stock market and other supposed contemporary themes intended to replace the author’s past dependence on the Cold War and its brand of spies.

Despite his reputation for research and detail, le Carre treats these essential topics in summary form, rather than in the depth one would expect from the list of experts he consulted.  For instance, Dima gets a telephone call telling him to “sell Mumbai,” only a while later to be informed to buy it back.  For this, one has to consult a pro?  And not even mention inside information.  As for Dima’s specialty, money laundering, there is virtually no hard description, just sort of a lackadaisical recounting of common knowledge. Despite this criticism, the author has written an entertaining tale, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.