Book Review: The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow Killer
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers, Book 2
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-12404-3
Hardcover

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was occupied by British troops even if that country was neutral in World War II, and in the months before Pearl Harbor, U.S. Troops relieved the Tommies [as they were called] so they could return home and face the possible Nazi invasion.  Iceland, of course, was a prominent way station for naval shipping across the Atlantic, with U-boat activity quite active.  In the midst of this activity, a man is found murdered, shot in the head by a weapon commonly used by American troops.

The investigation is undertaken by Flovent, the only detective with the Icelandic CID.  He enlists the help of a U.S. military policeman by the name of Thorston.  Together they center their attention on a family of German extraction, a paralyzed doctor, his son and his brother-in-law, the headmaster of a school, as well as the doctor’s brother who lives in Germany.  The victim remains unidentified, while initially believed to be the resident of the apartment, when it turns out he was a boyhood friend of the resident, the doctor’s son, who is in hiding and becomes the focus of a hunt.

Various subplots complicate the story as Flovent and Thorston delve into possible leads, including any possible role of U.S. Intelligence and a possible visit to the island by Winston Churchill. The sharp prose and excellent translation enhance this second novel in the series.  Mr. Indridason continues to provide us with top-notch thrillers, and we look forward to his next effort.

The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2018.

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Book Reviews: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson

Untwine
Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-42303-8
Hardcover

Preamble be damned, Untwine begins in the present and with purpose. Mum and Dad aren’t getting along. Identical teen-aged twin girls are tight, but right now, each is feeling a bit out of sorts. Everyone in the family car, each in a funk. And they are running late. Suddenly–another vehicle slams into them. The tightly knit family is shattered; metaphorically and then, quite literally.

Realistic fiction with a fresh focus features a situation that anyone can relate to. Rather than opening with an obligatory, typical-teen-turning-point type of event, it’s a regular day and a random accident. With all the ripple effects. Giselle relays events to the reader, moving both backward and forward, but in a fluid kind of way—painting the picture piece by piece.

Ms. Danticat’s story struck me as unique in a couple of ways. First, I felt a solid sense of loss for someone I’ve never known. Not sadness, sympathy or empathy; but an actual aching emptiness, and all for a character the author doesn’t even introduce. Second, subtle nuances–almost behind-the-scenes actions, that demonstrate strength and support of extended family I found to be both impressive and inspiring.

Mum and Dad, each with a sibling, immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. and they made their home in Miami. The accident brings the twins’ maternal aunt, as well as their father’s brother, to the hospital and straight to Giselle’s bedside. When Giselle is released from the hospital, she has rigid, ridiculous rules to follow, but they are for real. If she wants her brain to heal, that means no screens whatsoever, no reading, and no writing. Everyone else has their own injuries, so grand-parents come from Haiti to help out.

A sad story, with subtle silver linings, is simply the best.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Courage & Defiance:
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59220-8
Hardcover

In April of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and the quiet, common thread running through the Danish people was plucked. If ever there was a more resilient, resolved and remarkably sympathetic collection of human beings, they are unknown to me. Ms. Hopkinson honestly portrays the dangers of dismal, every-day-life under occupation as well as the cruelty and despair of concentration camps, simultaneously displaying the intuitive empathy and bravery of the Danes.

What strikes me the most is that each person has an individual ‘line he will cross’ while still doing his level best to resist, if not fight, against the gruesome German goals. That is, until learning of Hitler’s plan to round up and relocate Danish Jews to concentration camps. The unspoken, unanimous decision to prevent this was almost palpable as plans for moving Jewish Danes to Sweden were formed.

I do not have the ability to aptly convey the reasons that I will be highly recommending this non-fiction nugget, so I’ll just leave you with this: reading Courage and Defiance reminds me of the quote that Mr. Rogers would share from his childhood. When he would see scary things in the news, his mother advised, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

The Shadow District
The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers #1
Arnaldur Indridason
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, November 2017
ISBN:  978-1-250-12402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  In the debut of a new series from international mystery giant Indridason, the murder of a woman in Reykjavik during WWII becomes a piece in the puzzle of a contemporary killing.  A retired detective named Konrad remembers the earlier murder from his childhood, and is surprised when, assisting in the case of a 90-year-old man who was smothered in his bed, he comes across clippings that the old man kept of the murder.  It happened in ‘the shadow district,’ a rough neighborhood bordered by the National Theatre where Konrad grew up. But why would someone be interested in that crime now?  Alternating between Konrad’s unofficial investigation and the original wartime police inquiry, The Shadow District depicts the two investigations, separated by decades, discovering that two girls had been attacked in oddly similar circumstances.  Did the police arrest the wrong man all those years ago?  How are these cases linked across the decades?  And who is the old man?  A deeply compassionate story of old crimes and their consequences.

And that this surely is.  This newest standalone from Mr. Indridason will resonate with his many readers, as it did with this reviewer.

The contemporary murder is that of a young woman of about twenty, the body discovered by a local Icelandic woman and her lover, found in a box in a doorway of that same National Theatre in the Shadow District.  The investigation is headed by Konrad and Marta, a young woman with whom he had worked in the CID, and they immediately realize the similarities between this murder and the wartime killing, the two victims and the circumstances of their murders being so similar.  The ensuing tale is riveting, in this author’s distinctive style, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin

Almost Autumn
Marianne Kaurin
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-88965-0
Hardcover

The world we live in today is so ‘moment-to-moment’ in terms of information, we feel saturated and overwhelmed when evil things happen. It was markedly different for fifteen year old Ilse Stern, a Norwegian Jew. When the Nazis occupied her country in 1942, one of the first things they did was force everyone to turn in their wireless receivers (radios), effectively shutting off the most available information flow.

Ilse lives in a cramped fourth floor apartment with her parents and two sisters. Sonja is older and over-responsible, trying to keep the household running as well as do what she can to help her father keep his tailor shop afloat. Miriam, age five, is quiet and loves to draw pictures with her trademark sun featured in each. Mother is somewhat dour and constantly finds fault with Ilse, who’s a dreamer and avid reader with a big crush on teen neighbor Hermann Rod.

The Nazi occupiers’ squeeze on Jewish citizens begins gradually with a requirement that they have new registration papers stamped with a red J. Overly frequent requirements that Jewish men report to authorities coincides with a spike in verbal attacks and defacing of property. It becomes so bad, Mr. Stern leaves an hour early to remove the words written on his shop windows so Ilse and Sonja won’t see them when they arrive to help out.

Meanwhile, Hermann has gotten involved in the resistance, but must cover this activity by pretending he’s apprenticing to a painter across town. His involvement causes him to stand Ilse up for their first date, a night at the local cinema. For the next month, neither quite knows how to break the chill that follows this.

At the same time as the two teens are dancing around their feelings for each other, the campaign of terror has been ramped up by the occupation forces and in short order, the tailor shop is forced to close, all savings accounts and safe deposit boxes owned by Jewish citizens are ordered closed and all adult Jewish males are arrested and taken to a secret location.

Ilse and Hermann run off for a day of skiing and reconciliation. While gone, her family is taken into custody as are most other Jewish citizens. After a horrific sea voyage and a frigid train ride, with all packed tighter than cattle, they end up at Aushwitz. The description of what happened during these trips, as well as their reception at the prison camp, are low key, but still leave the reader feeling chilled.

If you want to learn what happened to Ilse, read the book. It’s an excellently understated story of how a large number of innocent human beings were terrified before being carted off to be executed simply because of their ethnicity. We need books like this to remind those who have forgotten and make aware those who never knew. Highly suggested for any school or public library collection.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, November 2017.

Book Review: A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

A Good Place to Hide
Peter Grose
Pegasus Books, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-68177-124-3
Trade Paperback

The period between 1939 and 1944 in Europe was not smooth and elegant. Relative calm settled over France as the Vichy Government moved to solidify itself and accommodate German occupation in the Northern Zone. As author Peter Grose notes, the central figures were Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Winston Churchill. War was the order of the day and as competing armies surged across the land, residents of a small, almost unnoticed group of farm villages found themselves responsible for a large humanitarian effort.

It didn’t seem to matter that for a thousand years the Huguenots had been persecuted for their religious and social beliefs. They were prepared to hide Jewish refugees at the drop of a trigger. And because of Haute-Loire’s proximity to Switzerland, they became a conduit for protection and saving of thousands of Jewish refugees from all over Europe, hiding them and moving them on to safety in neutral Switzerland.

The book is at times mesmerizing with it’s incredible tales of seventeen-year-old Piton, a guide who made the perilous journey perhaps a hundred times, to Virginia Hall, an American woman who asserted herself into the fabric of Resistance command and directed dozens of parachute drops, movement of large amounts of cash, rescue of prisoners and destruction of key transportation links to disrupt German military operations.

The book is over-long in some details and in places needs trimming to increase its impact. But it is a strong inspiring tale of man’s humanity toward man and a detailing of some clever and scary maneuvers by those same humans. It was hard to put down and is a grand testament to the women and men of Haute-Loire villages who refused to bow to the fascist German fist, who saved almost a generation of Jews.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: The Bid by Adrian Magson and Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

the-bidThe Bid
A Cruxys Solutions Investigation #2
Adrian Magson
Midnight Ink Books, January 2017
ISBN: 978073875043
Trade Paperback

Modern warfare is a featured bit player in this novel of suspense. The story opens a window on a rich theme of warfare and crime in the coming twenty-first century and beyond. Indeed, one of the problems with the novel is the number of possibilities it raises for both criminals and law enforcement.

The target is no less than the President of the United States and the process of funding and carrying out the assassination is a clever idea rooted in very modern financial life. The author, an experienced British crime-novelist, has written over a dozen thrillers, most would be classed as spy or conspiracy thrillers. The action is tension-filled, mostly consistent and relentless. The writing is top-notch, the characters are mostly interesting and/or intriguing and the settings are appropriate.

A business consultant with operations in the US and overseas has a specialized insurance contract on his life. If he goes missing for a short period of time, unusually trained operatives go active, searching for the client and setting up protection for the client’s family. It sounds expensive and I wanted more explanation of the basis for the character, James Chadwick, to buy what must have been an expensive policy. The policy is administered by a company called Cruxys. This interesting security policy allows the writer to introduce a pair of company operatives who soon fly off to the US where most of the action takes place.

Over several chapters we learn that the company seekers, Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vasilk, have unusual and relevant training and employment backgrounds, including the ability to take lives when necessary to protect their employer and themselves. It is easy to see the range of possibilities for this free-wheeling pair to get into trouble and to rescue clients from a wide range of dangerous circumstances.

Were it not for the author’s penchant for slipping strong critical editorial commentary into the narrative voice from time to time, the pace of the novel would make this book truly a compelling page turner. One wonders if there is anything about American life he finds favor for. In spite of these asides, The Bid is enjoyable, attention-holding and well-worth the readers’ time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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jacquelineJacqueline
Jackie Minniti
Anaiah Press, July 2015
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Jacqueline Falna of the title is a French child, twelve years of age, living in Rennes, France. When the story opens, in 1943, she and her mother have just learned that her father, a French aviator, is missing in action. Now they must cope with poverty, the Nazi occupiers, the coming of American forces all while maintaining a semblance of normal chiildhood.

Jacqueline, bright, energetic, with all the attributes one hopes to observe in a daughter or niece, is desolated by the news, but holds to the thread of possibility that her father may have been captured and will one day, after the war return to their home in Rennes. When a nearby family of Jews is abruptly taken away, the boy, David, remains and is hidden by Jacqueline’s family with help from neighbors.

In a simple, straight-forward style, through the eyes of this twelve year old child, we follow her daily challenges to help her mother find food, keep themselves warm in the winter and for Jacqueline, school and church. The novel is written for a middle school audience but the author’s craft does not pander, assuming readers may occasionally have to struggle with the language and some of the more mature considerations.

This is a fine, realistic novel, very well balanced with tragedy, happiness and it will not only engage readers in this age range. It also provides a way for young people to learn something about World War Two on an important personal level. Finally, after reading the novel, you may want to remind yourself of the name of the author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Third Knife by Pamela Boles Eglinski

the-third-knifeThe Third Knife
Catalina & Bonhomme Series #1
Pamela Boles Eglinski
LWF Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-0692549087
Trade Paperback

Catalina’s parents send her away from their vineyard farmhouse into the night with a guide to escape the advance of the Germans into Italy. She is sent to find her mother’s relatives in France who can help hide the family’s fortune, a blue diamond necklace that’s been in the family since the French Revolution. Germans are on the trails, however, and the journey doesn’t go as planned. Catalina ends up as a young maquis, a French Resistance fighter.

This World War II tale is three narratives in one. First, it’s the story of a young Italian signorina who escapes from the Germans to France with her family’s fortune around her waist and finds her first love in the process. Next is a passionate story about a group of young French resistance members, the maquis, and their dangerous campaigns against the Nazis. Finally, there’s a tale of French and Italian wines and the vintners who produce the grapes.

We are educated about the period, the land, and the war even as the story pulls at our heartstrings, horrifies us, pulls us into the plot, and leaves us with a lasting impression of characters we learn to love and admire. There are maps and explanations at the end of the book and an introduction to the book, Return of the French Blue, to which The Third Knife is the prequel.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.