Book Reviews: A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson, Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, and The Wild Beasts of Wuhan by Ian Hamilton

A Serpent's ToothA Serpent’s Tooth
Craig Johnson
Viking, April  2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02645-6
Trade Paperback

Now in his ninth appearance, Walt Longmire is confronted by dual adversaries when a homeless boy shows up on his doorstep.  The youth, Cord Lynear, has been cast out of a Mormon cult enclave searching for his mother.  Walt discovers that his mother approached the sheriff of an adjoining county, looking for her son.  In attempting to reunite the two, Walt is unable to find the mother, leading him into investigating an interstate polygamy group, well-armed and with something to hide.

It is an intricate plot, one fraught with danger for Walt, his pal Standing Bear (also known as “Cheyenne Nation”) and his deputy (and lover), Victoria Moretti.  I felt Walt’s overdone bravado, and the resulting violent confrontations, were a bit overdone.  But that is Walt.  And TV.

This entry in the Walt Longmire series, now also in a popular TV dramatic form about to enter its second season, appears to be expressly written to provide another episode.  That is not to say it isn’t another well-written novel with all the elements of the Wyoming sheriff’s customary literary observations and acts of derring-do.  It just seems to me that it’s a bit too much of a manufactured plot with an overtone of a popular protagonist and his sidekicks.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Once We Were BrothersOnce We Were Brothers
Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-04639-0
Trade Paperback

There have been many books about the holocaust and the travails of people under Nazi occupation during World War II, but this novel touches the heart of the reader because essentially it is a love story surrounded by the atrocities and miseries inflicted on the populations of the occupied territories.  It is essentially the story of Ben Solomon and his wife and family.  But, more important, it is the telling of the horrors endured by the Jews in Poland and the beasts that perpetrated them.

The plot begins when Ben, now 82 years old, sees a TV broadcast of a Chicago event and recognizes the person receiving a civic honor, apparently a pillar of society who is well-known as a philanthropist, as a former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek.  The reason Ben recognizes him is because the Solomon family gave Otto a home and Ben grew up with him until Otto’s parents took him away and he embraced his new-found status in the National Socialist Party.  Ben is introduced to Catherine Lockhart, an attorney, who comes to embrace Ben’s desire to uncover Otto, now going by the name of Elliot Rosenzweig, a billionaire Chicago insurance magnate, for what he really is, while listening to his story in relation to a lawsuit she is preparing to bring to reclaim jewelry and cash Otto stole from Ben’s family.

Written simply, the book, a first effort by a Chicago lawyer, moves forward steadily, as Catherine attempts to formulate a lawsuit for replevin, while Ben insists on telling her in great detail the trials and tribulations of life under the Nazis.  And it all comes together at the end.  (Parenthetically, I believe the novel would make a great screenplay.)

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

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The Wild Beasts of WuhanThe Wild Beasts of Wuhan
An Ava Lee Novel
Ian Hamilton
Picador, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-03229-4
Trade Paperback

Ava Lee undertakes a most formidable task in this, the second in the series about the forensic accountant who specializes in recovering money for a sizable commission in partnership with her mentor, referred to simply as “Uncle,” a rather mysterious man apparently with triad connections, headquartered in Hong Kong and with deep roots in China.  It seems that Uncle’s boyhood friend, Wong Changxing, a powerful and impressive industrialist, bought about $100 million worth of paintings, 15 out of the 20 being elaborate forgeries, and upon discovering the fact seeks Uncle’s and Ava’s assistance in recovering the money and saving him from embarrassment should the facts become known.

The problem is that the Hong Kong dealer from whom the paintings were purchased ten years before is dead and there are no clues or paperwork to guide Ava in her efforts.  But that hardly is a problem for her, as she pursues tracing the transactions, traveling to Denmark, London, Dublin, the Faroe Islands and New York City and learning a lot about the art world in the process.

Ava Lee is on a par with the best of the female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone and others, while an accountant, but exhibiting all the talents and attributes of a private eye.   She is tough and bold and confident, as she shows us in this latest caper.  We are told that the next novel in the series, expected in January 2014, has her pulling her half-brother’s chestnuts out of the fire.  Looking forward to reading it!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Review: Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

Don’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-60693-0
Hardcover

Buck Schatz, an eighty-eight-year-old member of the “greatest generation” has, as ordered by his wife Rose, gone to the bedside of a dying comrade in arms—against his better judgment. Once there, his old army buddy, Jim Wallace, confesses he once took a bribe allowing the SS officer who ran their POW camp to escape. The bribe consisted of one gold bar, and according to Jim, there had been many more where that came from. What’s more, he knows the SS officer, Heinrich Ziegler, has lived all these years in the U.S. free as a bird. Who better, Jim demands, than the man who survived Ziegler’s worst brutalizations and who is a former police detective, to go after the war criminal. Oh, yes, and the gold, which he wants Buck to share with his family.

For such a supposedly well-kept secret, Buck soon finds just about everybody imaginable knows about the gold, and they all want a piece of it. Some want all of it. So Buck, suffering from increasing frailty and forgetfulness (he has to write himself notes about everything he wants to remember) is swept into one more case. He can’t count on the cops to be his allies, but his grandson Billy—under the nickname Tequila—becomes his sidekick as violent murder dogs his investigation.

I loved this book. Buck, with all his foibles and supposedly deteriorating mental acuity is a real kick in the pants. And the reader just knows that Tequila is sure to one day become as interesting as his grandfather. The mystery is good, but it’s the characters who make this book. Author Friedman brings them to life with sharp dialogue and just the right amount of description.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Don't Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

Don’t Ever Get Old
Daniel Friedman
Minotaur Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-60693-0
Hardcover

Buck Schatz, an eighty-eight-year-old member of the “greatest generation” has, as ordered by his wife Rose, gone to the bedside of a dying comrade in arms—against his better judgment. Once there, his old army buddy, Jim Wallace, confesses he once took a bribe allowing the SS officer who ran their POW camp to escape. The bribe consisted of one gold bar, and according to Jim, there had been many more where that came from. What’s more, he knows the SS officer, Heinrich Ziegler, has lived all these years in the U.S. free as a bird. Who better, Jim demands, than the man who survived Ziegler’s worst brutalizations and who is a former police detective, to go after the war criminal. Oh, yes, and the gold, which he wants Buck to share with his family.

For such a supposedly well-kept secret, Buck soon finds just about everybody imaginable knows about the gold, and they all want a piece of it. Some want all of it. So Buck, suffering from increasing frailty and forgetfulness (he has to write himself notes about everything he wants to remember) is swept into one more case. He can’t count on the cops to be his allies, but his grandson Billy—under the nickname Tequila—becomes his sidekick as violent murder dogs his investigation.

I loved this book. Buck, with all his foibles and supposedly deteriorating mental acuity is a real kick in the pants. And the reader just knows that Tequila is sure to one day become as interesting as his grandfather. The mystery is good, but it’s the characters who make this book. Author Friedman brings them to life with sharp dialogue and just the right amount of description.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.