Book Reviews: The Sentry by Robert Crais, Stettin Station by David Downing and Damage by John Lescroart

The Sentry
Robert Crais
Putnam, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15707-3
Hardcover

There are many larger-than-life, hard-boiled superheroes, some more believable than others.  Then there is Joe Pike:  A strong, contemplative, quiet, unassuming protagonist.  And his sorrowful and anguished side-kick, PI Elvis Cole, adds a more human touch. Together, they make a great team, and in this, the third thriller in the series with Joe in the lead (Elvis is upfront in 11 others), they come together like ham and swiss or hand in glove.

It all begins when by chance Joe observes two gangbangers beating up a cook in a po’boy sandwich shop in Venice, California.  Killing one ( the other runs off), he meets the cook’s niece and becomes attracted to her, deciding to meet with the gang jefe to prevent further violence in what appears to be a protection racket.  This leads to all sorts of events involving the Mexican drug cartel, Bolivian drug lords, and a psychopathic killer, among others.

Each novel in the series is notable, with this entry among the best. The author has written a solid book, with ironic observations and a plot that swerves back and forth to keep the reader wondering what follows.  He has shown that the series is a long way from running out of steam, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Stettin Station
David Downing
Soho Press ,April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-919-3
Trade Paperback

The chronicle of journalist John Russell begins in Nazi Berlin a week before Pearl Harbor in this, the third novel in the series [with a fourth, Potsdam Station, just out in hardcover].  The descriptions of Gestapo tactics and the beginnings of the “final solution” are eerily chilling.

Russell is ostensibly a correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, allowing the author to describe the machinations of the Nazi censors and propaganda machine with vivid detail, while his protagonist acts as a go-between between German and American intelligence agents, carrying messages back and forth.  He even obtains proof that the Gestapo is removing Jews from Berlin and planning to gas them, even though he can hardly publish the story.

As conditions worsen, Russell has to find a way to get out of Germany, hoping to bring his long-time girlfriend with him.  It is a tale of terror with a thrill-a-page pace.  Descriptions of wartime Berlin and the police state remind us of a period many may have forgotten, but of which we, and they, should perhaps be reminded.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Damage
John Lescroart
Dutton, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95176-6
Hardcover

Readers should not expect the author’s trademark court scenes in this novel.  Instead, it is more of a psychological study about a newly elected DA, Wes Farrell, in San Francisco, protagonists also including Chief of Homicide Abe Glitsky, Asst. DA Amanda Jenkins and others. The antagonists include Ro Curtlee, a convicted rapist-murderer released by an appellate court on a technicality after serving nine years of a much longer sentence, and his parents, wealthy owners of one of only two newspapers in town and not hesitant in using their power to influence public officials or opinion.

Soon after Ro’s release pending a new trial, the question of bail arises; Farrell takes no position and the judge grants it for a $10 million bond. And then the chief witness in the first trial is found strangled and her apartment burned.  Obviously, suspicion falls on Ro. Another murder and threatening events soon follow.  The thrust of the plot is to get Ro back in jail, and the machinations of the cops and prosecutors vs. the influence of the Curtlees.

So, instead of a courtroom drama, we have a thriller enhanced by peeks into the conflicts and complexities, including ethics, values and procedures, facing various professionals in their attempts to serve justice.  Written with insight and flowing narrative, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.