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 Reviews: Confessions of a Catholic Cop by Thomas J. Fitzsimmons, Fade to Blue by Bill Moody, Fox Five by Zoe Sharp, On the Line by S. J. Rozan, and The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

Confessions of a Catholic Cop
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons
Thomas J. Fitzsimmons Inc., October 2006
ISBN: 978-0-9789762-1-7
Trade Paperback

The authenticity of this first novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons fairly jumps off the page.  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, his protagonist, 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.”  Although there is the requisite disclaimer, there are immediately recognizable references to an incident infamous in New York City history, wherein an unarmed man named Amadou Diallo was gunned down by police in what was literally a hail of gunfire; a well-known local black leader known for inflammatory appearances at anything smacking of possible police prejudice or wrongdoing, here named “Dullard” instead of “Sharpton,” etc.

The action is disturbingly realistic, portraying the dope dealers, pimps, corruption, bad cops, and poverty rampant in such sections of almost any large city in the country, and the dedication of most members of the police force who try to make them safe and livable. When a hugely wealthy real estate mogul has plans for a large section of real estate, forcible evictions are only part of his modus operandi, and the fact that the mayor, the police commissioner and some of the cops are in his pocket makes matters that much easier for him.  But when a young girl and her infant daughter become victims of his ruthlessness, Beckett and his volatile partner, Vinnie D’Amato, are determined to obtain justice for them, with Beckett becoming obsessed to the point of putting both of their lives, and their careers, on the line.

As noted, this was the first of many books, fiction and otherwise, by this author, and that fact is reflected in the somewhat unpolished writing. But ultimately the gripping realism of the tale won out. The book was a fast, suspenseful read, and is recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the book was previously published by Forge Books as City of Fire in March, 2009.  The author has re-released the novel now under its original title.  It is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble only, in trade paperback as noted above and as an e-book, for $2.99]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.

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Fade to Blue
Bill Moody
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-894-9
Hardcover

What a pleasure to immerse myself in my two favorite worlds:  jazz, and mystery writing!  Bill Moody has the perfect background for both, and extensive credentials in each.  In this latest work, Evan Horne, his jazz pianist protag, is hired by the agent for Ryan Stiles, a hot new movie star, one widely considered to be Hollywood royalty [“a new Robert Redford, exuding charm”], to teach Stiles how to look as though he is an accomplished jazz piano player in a new film.  [To further entice him, he is asked to score the film, and to stay at the actor’s Malibu beach house in the process – an enviable gig, to be sure.] This is not a new concept – examples given are “Bird” and Forest Whittaker, “Ray” and Jamie Foxx, Frank Sinatra with “Man with the Golden Arm” [a long time ago, that one, I realize].

Evan, who describes himself as a sometime detective [see prior entries in the series], is now living in Monte Rio, in northern California, but makes the not-hard-to-take transition to the Malibu scene.  Part of the equation, and the price, is putting up with paparazzi at every turn, with one particularly obnoxious photographer being excessively annoying and confrontational.  But when that photographer goes missing, the police, and Evan as well, suspect that Stiles may have played a role in his disappearance.  Ultimately there are two fatalities, which could easily have both been murders, or accidents. Evan is assisted by the two people closest to him, FBI Special Agent Andrea (“Andie”) Lawrence, and Lt. Dan Cooper (“Coop”) of the Santa Monica Police.  Stiles even agrees to hire Coop for the duration as head of security on the movie set.

In addition to the solid mystery, there are frequent musical and, in particular, jazz references, including one to Yoshi’s, a beloved S.F. mecca for jazz lovers/musicians alike [I’d forgotten that there were two establishments bearing that name, the second being in Oakland], and invaluable little-known and fascinating anecdotes referencing jazz legends such as [Thelonius] Monk and Bill Evans.  Things take a sudden and ominous turn when a case from Evan’s past comes back to haunt him, in unforeseeable ways.  The book is consistently enjoyable on many levels, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.

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Fox Five
Zoe Sharp
Murderati Ink, August 2011
Kindle e-book

The author, who has written, among other things, nine books in the acclaimed Charlie Fox series, has now published in e-book form what is termed an “e-thology,” a collection of five short stories, and an excellent addition it surely is.

The first, “A Bridge Too Far,” is, appropriately enough, the very first short story ever written featuring the ex-Special Forces soldier turned self-defense expert/bodyguard, Charlotte [“Charlie”] Fox, whose background further includes teaching self-defense classes for women before ultimately working in “close protection.”    The plot deals with members of a Dangerous Sports Club who engage in activities which justify its name.  The action takes place on a morning in May in Lancashire, in the UK, described, in the author’s typically wonderful prose, as an hour when “the last of the dawn mist clung to the dips and hollows [of the valley], and was quiet enough to hear the world turning.”  Lest this peaceful scene lull the reader, the tale concludes with a stunning ending.

The second story, “Postcards from Another Country,” was the second Charlie Fox short story, fittingly, and deals with Charlie’s employment by an old-money family, the titular country being “the world of the very wealthy.”  Close protection in that milieu is more of a challenge than usual, as Charlie finds when she is hired after a failed murder attempt on the male head of the family, whose members have come to believe that money is the answer to everything.

The next tale, “Served Cold,” was nominated for the CWA Short Story Dagger Award in 2009.  The only one in the collection where Charlie is not front and center, its protagonist is a waitress and stripper.  In “Off Duty,” the fourth Charlie Fox short story, the incidents there recounted were originally intended for inclusion in the US edition of Book #6, Second Shot, but ultimately not used as such, and is a sort of lead-in to Book #7, Third Strike.  “Truth and Lies,” the concluding piece, was written especially for this “e-thology.”  The reader is treated to author notes prefacing each short story, giving insights into its origins, as well as bonus material at the end, with biographical details on the author and her masterful creation, Charlie Fox, all of which just makes the reader look forward to the next novel in the series [working title Die Easy ] that much more.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.

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On the Line
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-60924-5
Trade Paperback

What, exactly is “on the line” in this newest novel from S. J. Rozan is nothing more nor less than the life of Lydia Chin.  For the uninitiated, Lydia, a young ABC [American-Born Chinese, and described as ‘Chinatown’s only PI, with a non-Chinese partner her mom doesn’t like’], is the sometime partner of Bill Smith, a chain-smoking middle-aged white guy.  And no one writes protagonists of a different gender and ethnicity better than this master-craftsman [excuse me, make that ‘craftsperson’].

As the novel opens, early one morning late in the Fall in NYC Bill receives a call made from Lydia’s phone.  The caller, who doesn’t identify himself and whose voice is electronically altered, says that he has Lydia, and for Bill to get her back he will have to play a ‘game’ whose rules are laid out:  Bill will have to follow a series of clues that will be doled out to him in an unspecified manner, but he has only twelve hours to find her.  Of course, the game rules keep changing, and Bill has no idea who the kidnapper is.  He seeks help from Linus Wong, Lydia’s young cousin and a talented hacker, and Linus’ assistant, a teenage Goth girl named Trella.  The ‘game’ becomes much more complicated when Bill discovers the dead body of a young Chinese woman he thinks at first might be Lydia, but turns out to be that of a hooker.  Immediately after this discovery the cops turn up, and Bill soon finds himself hunted by the cops as well as by the girl’s pimp and his two very scary associates.  The game soon threatens the lives of several more young girls, with Lydia the prize for whoever wins.

The tension never lets up, with Bill desperately trying to obtain and then figure out the clues left for him in varying places all around the city, as well as identifying the man who hates him this much, because it is soon apparent that this is very, very personal.  The novel is exquisitely plotted, all leading up to a breathtaking denouement.   More than highly recommended, this one is a Must Read.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.

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The End of the Wasp Season
Denise Mina
Orion, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4091-0095-9
Hardcover
Available in the US from Reagan Arthur Books, September 2011

Each of the first three chapters of this newest novel by Denise Mina, author of the Garnethill trilogy among other wonderful books, introduces the reader to three women, each of them strong and independent, and each tested by events which follow.  The most dramatic, and tragic, is Sarah Erroll, 24 years old, who is sexually mutilated and brutally murdered in the first pages.  [The full extent of the savagery is not known till nearly half-way through the book, although it is strongly hinted at.]  In Glasgow, the Strathclyde police are called in, and the DS handling the brunt of the investigation is DS Alex Morrow, not quite five months pregnant with twins.  The third of these women is Kay Murray, a single mother of four who had worked for the dead woman and, coincidentally, had been a schoolmate of Alex many years ago.

But the central figure throughout the book is Lars Anderson, multimillionaire banker who believed that “you couldn’t trick an honest man.”  He appears to be a UK version of Bernard Madoff, having ruined many lives before taking his own in the early pages of the book.   There is plenty of family dysfunction and family tragedy to go around in this book, the Andersons only the worst of these.

Alex thinks, as the case begins, that “she hated sexual murders.  They all hated them, not just out of empathy with the victim but because sexual crimes were corrosive, they took them to hideous dark places in their own heads, made them suspicious and fearful, and not always of other people.”

The author kept this reader off balance, with having to figure out who some of the characters were and their relationship to other players, and to the plot itself.  The book has sudden shocking moments, only adding to that sense of being off-balance.  The author mentions Alex’ looking forward to a night going over her notes and trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle that is her investigation, and “the promise of utter absorption” that it holds.  I could completely relate to that description, for that is precisely what this novel provides.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2011.