Friday, December 31, 2010

'All human life is here, but the Holy Ghost seems to be shomwhere else." Anthony Burgess

In August, 1918, Lt. Billy Prior is returning to the front after a period of recuperation for "sell shock" and asthma. Even though he is still having asthma attacks and his doctor advises that he should stay away from the front and the gas attacks, he feels that it's his duty to return to the front lines.
William Rivers is the psychologist who tries to help the soldiers at the hospital. We see the men who are afflicted with various ailments and Rivers' optimism and the faith in human spirit as he tries to help.
Rivers speaks to a soldier named Moffet who suffers from emotional paralysis of the legs. When a treatment brings feelings back to the man's legs, Rivers thinks that he's helped only to find Moffet locked in a bathroom attempting to commit suicide. These men were only at the front for a short while and the horror that they've seen was enough to have their minds or bodies shut down in protest. This has a parallel to today's servicemen and woman who are so young and so many of them return from Afghanistan or Iraque with mental or physical issues so that there are more suicides within military than any time in the past.
The author gives us a good image of the upper class and the common soldier during the first world war. There is a difference in the respect and care provided to the officers. In one conversation, Billy relates that a man named Birthwhistle stated, "Of course one can't rely on them. Their values are different than ours. They're a totally different species, ...these W.C.'s" When Rivers is puzzled with the initials, WC, Billy states that this is for Working Class.
Billy also tells Rivers that the W.C.s are men who are getting their bollocks shot off so they can go on being the lilly in the dung heap." It appears that he is saying that this is the means with which the working class will raise their status, by serving in the war and risking their lives.
The novel won the Booker Prize and provides a good phychological profile of the soldiers and their acceptance of orders to go to the front and for so many, sacrifice their lives.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Young blood, I can't get you out of my mind." Song Lyrics

In southern Minnesota, Robert Tripp, an employee at a grain company, kills, Jacob Flood, a local farmer. When Tripp is questioned by the police, the sheriff is able to break his story and jails him. Then, Tripp is murdered in his cell. The sheriff suspects one of her men, Jim Crocker, is involved. Because of the internal politics, she calls in investigator Virgil Flowers, from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
When Virgil goes to Crocker's home to question him, he finds Crocker murdered and made to look like he committed suicide. Virgil is also informed of a fourth victim, a young teenage girl, Kelly Baker, who was found in a cemetery.
Virgil tries to put the four deaths together. He learns that Tripp was gay and that Baker had some extreme sexual activity and abuse prior to her death. Then he talks to Floods wife.
Flood's wife, Alma, also informs him that Crocker and her husband were childhood friends and that may have given Crocker a reason to want to kill Tripp. Alma also admits that Kelly Baker was a member of their church. Since the church connection was coming up more often, Virgil told Alma that his father was a minister and he quotes verses of the bible to her but she doesn't catch the biblical connection. Sensing a fraud, Virgil begins looking closer at the church connection.
Upon leaving the Flood's home, the reader learns something perverted is going on and soon after Virgil begins unravelling a scenario that is hard for him to believe. There appear to be over a hundred families in this church and they are involved in a mulitgenerational sexual activity that is unheard of.
How will he be able to stop this perversion? The church members won't talk about it and he must find a weak link. Where to look?

This is an extremely well plotted and suspenseful novel that the reader will enjoy. Virgil is a wise cracking character who is also dedicated to finding wrongs and correcting them, however, he doesn't mind some extra curricular activity with the attractive sheriff.
Highly recommended.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

"A sentimental person thinks things will last...a romantic...hopes they won't." Unknown Source

Boston attorney, Charles Stone, handles special assignments for Franklin Life.

In this instance a $500,000 life insurance policy was taken on the life of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jack Spears. The beneficiary is Senorita Consuelo deV.

Now the agent is found murdered and Stone is asked to find out more about this Mexican woman.

The novel is advertised as a travel mystery so, as Stone drives from Massachusetts to Mexico, we get glimpses of various places such as Carlsbad Caverns, San Antonio and others. Initially, I found this distracting and wished that the author would just get on with the story.

Coincidences abound. As soon as Stone crosses the Mexican border and goes into a bar, Consuelo, "Connie" is sitting there. She approaches him and sets up a meeting with her boss, Eduardo Silva. At that meeting, Silva informs Stone that he attended mining school at the University of Nevada. It just so happens that Stone has an old friend that is in charge of the mining school there. Silva tells him that Stone's friend was a major influence on his life.

The dialogue is stilted, at the border patrol, Agent Collins states she has "Everything you want to know about the brutal attack...on Spears." Later, Connie is chasing Stone and Collins. She has them pinned down behind a rock formation. Connie comes after them with a gun and yells, "You have dishonored my life and family, Mr. Stone and as for that red haired agent, she deserves the same kind of death as Jack Spears...I plan to carry out a more complete ritual of revenge with her." I don't think that someone would have a discourse when they are trying to shoot someone and call her intended victim "Mr." Also, every time anyone speaks of Spears death, it is referred to as "...the brutal attack."

There is word that Spears may have been a rogue. When Connie is with Stone, she admits that Spears was saved from being killed by a Tribal Elder in Afghanistan. When he was fighting Al Queda and now, Spears is trying to get arms to the Tribal Elder so that he and his village can defend themselves against Al Queda.

I enjoyed the story but felt that it wasn't realistic that the two women in the story immediately fall for Stone and want to go to bed with him. In addition, while Stone and Agent Collins are driving back to Boston, they are too naive to take precautions against reprisals from shooting Connie.

The author can tell a story and the plot is compelling enough to keep the reader interested but I didn't find Stone sympathetic or likable. The author is working on a new novel with this character and I think that with some editing and realistic dialogue, the next novel will be an improvement.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise...where to plant vines." Frank Lloyd Wright

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is recovering from injuries from a prior case, the specifics are not fully described as the story begins. He's currently spending time in Quebec City, where he's doing research at one of his favorite spots, the Literary and Historical Society.
As he walks his dog and approaches the society on a frigid winter morning, he finds police investigating the murder of Augustin Renaud. We later learn that Renaud has for years, spent most of his time looking for the burial spot of Quebec's founder, Champlain.
Gamache is asked to help in the investigation and prevent possible tensions from arising between the English and French speaking communities.
At the same time, he's getting messages from the community of "Three Pines" where he helped prove that his friend, Oliver, was guilty of murder. Oliver's partner doesn't believe that Oliver is guilty and Gamache sends Jean-Guy Beauvoir to reconstruct the murder investigation and see what he finds.
As the story continues, Gamache has flashbacks to his case that went wrong. One of his men, and friends, Agent Paul Morin, was abducted and there were questions about who abducted him and what their intentions were. This portion of the novel is sometimes confusing because there is no delineation between the other parts of the story and if the reader isn't careful they can miss that Gamache is now thinking about past events.
Louise Penny is a multiple award winner and has great talent. In this work she has written a literary novel with a unique plot. Her characters stand out in their actions, their thoughts and beliefs. Gamache is the modern Hercule Poirot.
Readers will again enjoy her story and the history of Quebec that is intermingled within the novel's action.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

"Everything is sweetened by risk." Alexander Smith

Lt. Alex Delillo, of the L.A. police department is investigating the killing of one of the owners of a local florist shop. When she and her partner arrive at the home of one of the shop's employees, to question him, the front door is rigged with explosives. Alex's partner is hospitalized and is lucky to be alive.

Just prior to the report of the murder, Alex's teenage daughter, Lacy, created a near riot at a beauty pageant when she removed two cylinders from beneath her gown and told the audience that they were destroying the environment. Believing that the cylinders contained some kind of poison, the crowd panicked. Lt. Delillo and other police calmed the crowd and Lacy admitted that the cylinders only contained insecticide. Alex is furious and wonders how her daughter has changed so quickly from the daughter she knew, six months ago, who was most comfortable in jeans and T-shirts.

With Alex's partner injured, she begins working with Detective Dylon Harrison who was in the bomb squad. Maybe it's a needed quality to have in the unit he is in but Harrison is a calming influence on Alex. As we will later see, he also has this beneficial quality with victims.

Soon after, a body is found in a remote area and identification shows him to be a member of the Mexican army. Los Angeles officials speculate that he may have brought bomb making equipment to the area.

Lacy goes missing and Alex and Harrison search the home of a part time employee at the florist. Here they find that a man is strapped to a chair with bombs set to explode via a motion detector if the man moved. Harrison is able to disarm the explosives and the mad admits that Lacy has been kidnapped.

The novel is packed with action as Alex attempts to find the mad bomber and her daughter. We learn that the bomber wants to set the explosives in a place where the TV camera will catch the explosion live and he can become famous and feared.

All of the exciting action in the book seem realistic and the author, Scott Frost draws the reader into the action and to become deeply concerned with the story and Lt. Dilillo's attempt to stop the bomber and save her daughter.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he's braver...longer." Emerson

Our first view of Tommy Bedford is when a prison guard is escorting him, at age thirteen, to see his mother before she's executed after being found guilty of murder.

The actual story begins in 1959 when Tom is eight-years-old. He lives in a world where his heroes are the stars of Western TV shows. He owns a photo of Flint McCullough, star of "Wagon Train," which he cherishes.

Tom is a quiet boy who is attempting to cope with a nighttime bed wetting problem. His parents are understanding and sympathetic but they are much older than the parents of his friends.

He's sent to Alhlawn Prep, boarding school, to toughen him up. The school, an imposing Gothic mansion had been a mental hospital and is a cold, frightening facility for this little boy. There is similarity to Tom Brown in the novel by Thomas Hughes, which took place at an English boarding school in the 1830s.

At Ashlawn Prep, Tom undergoes such bullying by other students and sadistic behavior by one faculty member that he smuggles a letter out to his sister, Diane. He thinks that his sister is the only one who would understand and he pleads with her to find a way to get him out of the school.

Upon receiving the letter, Diane is brought to tears with compassion but she's not in position to help. She's a young actress on the brink of success.

It's not for another year that Diane has become a successful actress. She has moved to Hollywood where she met actor Ray Montane, who is famous for his cowboy character, Red McGraw. Diane rises in success while the cowboy movies of the times diminish in popularity and he begins to feel somewhat jealous of her success.

Imagine the effect of a little boy, now age nine, when his actress sister, and her famous boyfriend come to the school. Tom's esteem soars but then Diane admits that she's not his sister but is his mother. But at the same time, she and Ray are able to provide a home for him in Hollywood.

The story is interlaced between events of the past and what is happening currently. We see how sixteen-year-old Diane became pregnant and how Tom, in his fifties is now a divorced filmmaker and writer. The emotional abuse he had growing up has led to his escape into alcohol which ruined his marriage and changed the rest of his life.

A powerful character driven novel by the author of "The Horse Whisperer." The pacing of the story and of Tom's life make him and Diane memorable and sympathetic characters.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Yogi Berra

Dodge Hanley enjoys his life as a P.I. He has his retirement from the police department and his income as an investigator for his friend, attorney Derek Mitchell.
Dodge has been divorced from Caroline King for thirty years and he still has a strong feeling of longing for her. He was taken by surprise when he received a call from Caroline, asking for his help. She informs him that their daughter, Berry, is being stalked by a madman who almost killed her.
When Dodge arrives in Houston, Texas, Caroline introduces him to Berry as a private investigator, friend. Then, they tell Dodge what prompted their call for help.
Orin Starks, a former co-worker with Berry, entered Berry's home and told her that he had come to kill her. When she yelled for help, her friend, Ben Lofland, who was in the house, ran to her side. Starks seemed surprised and wounded Ben, then ran from the house.
Dodge Hanley is a no nonsense, chain smoking tough guy in the Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry image. He begins working with a local deputy sheriff, Ski Nyland, an Afghanistan veteran.
As the men search for the stalker/intruder, we learn of Starks going on a killing rampage. He kills a teenage boy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, then he kills again. The police find the body of another former office worker who had problems with Starks when they worked together.
I wanted to like this novel more but found the characters stereotypical. Other than Ski Nyland, I didn't find any of the characters interesting or truly sympathetic. Starks reactions to Barry's insulting rejection of his advances seemed extreme until the reader gets the full story while Berry, rather than sympathetic comes across as a liar who is out to get ahead at all costs.

The author provided a subplot in the form of flashbacks as we learn of Dodge and Caroline's romance, thirty years prior. While this had some interest, the movement back and forth in time, distracted from the plot. By the time the novel ended, I found that I couldn't care less what happened to the characters or what caused Starks to become what he was.

Sandra Brown is one of the legends in mystery writing and I've enjoyed her past novels but this novel disappointed.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

"If the devil does not exist, and man has created him, he has created him in his own ...likeness" Dostoyevsky

Det. Cassie Maddox works in the Dublin Police domestic violence unit. Years ago, she worked undercover, posing as a college student at the University of Dublin. For that assignment, she made up a name and documents as Alexandra Madison.

Currently, her boyfriend, Det. Sam O'Neill calls and tells her to drop whatever she's doing and come to a murder scene.

Upon arrival she's shocked to observe how much the victim looks like her. What's more astounding is that the victim is carrying identification identifying her as Alexandra Madison.

Because of the uncanny resemblance to the deceased, Frank Mackey, Cassie's former boss in the undercover operation, sees a unique opportunity. Since no one else knows of the victim's murder, he asks if Cassie would go undercover again and return to the home the victim shared with other graduate students.

Cassie agrees but first she must learn all she can about the victim, who was referred to as Lexi. She must become an expert on the victim and the other housemates.

The novel proceeds in a leisurely manner, with a fascinating portrait of how someone might react if they could come back to life and was returned to the setting with four others, one of whom might be her killer.

Cassie plays her role well and there seems to be no indication that any of her housemates doesn't think she is Lexi.

The is good character portrayal. One standout was when one of the housemates relates how he informed his parents during a Christmas vacation, about his sexual orientation. The parent's reaction and the character's reaction was cinematically done and memorable.

I enjoyed the novel although thought that the leisurely pace was a bit overdone. The reader sees the other housemates and attempts to identify who Lexi's killer could be. Adding an additional element is that the people in Glenskehy, Ireland, do not like the residents of the home where Lexi and her fellow grad students live. Could the murderer be one of the town's unhappy residents?

The novel progresses realistically and we watch the character of Lexi attempt to identify her own killer.

Readers who enjoy reading of stories set in Ireland will enjoy the realism and characterization provided by the author.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"The sky is no less blue because the blind man doesn't see it." Danish Proverb

This is the story of the relationship between two brothers.
In his younger days, Edward admired his adventurous, dare devil brother, Lawrence, who was six years older that he.
Years pass by, Lawrence leaves home and hasn't been seen by Edward for fifteen years. Then, like a Prodigal brother, he shows up at Edward's home, unannounced and in need of food and clothing.
Edward has become a wealthy eye surgeon in California while Lawrence is an out of work card dealer in Nevada.
Initially, the reader doesn't know the reason for Lawrence coming to his brother's home. It seems as if he might want to re-establish a relationship with Edward.
Lawrence does win over Edward's five-year-old son Jonathan's affection. Lawrence acts insanely with Jonathan flopping on the floor and making monkey noises while on an outing at the local zoo. Jonathan may enjoy this but Edward is skeptical.
Then, in a revealing moment, Lawrence asks if he can stay with Edward for a while. Callously, Edward refuses. He gives him some money and drives him to the bus station.
The story goes on and Edward narrates his earlier days with Lawrence.
Nothing really happens in this novel. Edward is a passive, sermonizing character with little to like. Lawrence is a Machiavellian, out for whatever thrill he can get.
The novel has had mixed reviews and I continued to read, expecting the story to improve. It didn't. Cardboard characters, uninteresting plot and a novel without a message. Need I say more?
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

"If a dog's prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky.' Turkish Proverb

There are many puzzles to be solved as Dr. "Tempe" Brennan, forensic anthropologist, works at her latest challenging endeavor. Temp arrives at the scene of a drowning near Montreal, Canada. She finds that the victim is wrapped in a manner that suggests an auto erotic sexual fetish.
After taking fingerprints, the victim is identified as John Lowery. What is remarkable is the United States authorities list Lowery as being killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, forty years earlier.
Politicians become involved when Canadian officials notify Lowery's family about finding Lowery's body. A Congressman in the Lowery's family's district, wants to know why Canada is claiming that Lowery must be a deserter and Lowery's father demands to know who is buried in Lowery's grave.
The author's writing style is very descriptive and has the effect of making the reader pause in the reading, just to experience the author's literary style. When Temp goes to North Carolina to examine the body in Lowery's grave, she meets Lowery's father, Plato. "Lowery's eyes were what grabbed you, black as wormholes in space. His gaze seemed to laser straight into your soul."
After removing the body from the grave in North Carolina, Dr. Brennan travels to Hawaii to the U.S. military command that tries to recover Americans who are missing from military actions. Brennan is accompanied by her daughter, Kathy, Brennan's ex-lover, Det. Andrew Ryan and Ryan's daughter.
In an interesting subplot that adds another part to the puzzle, Tempe assists in identifying bones found by divers. There is enough here to make a student pursue this field of study. Tempe finds that the bones are from a missing teen and now authorities must discover if the teen's death was from a shark attack or was he murdered.
Still another complication arises when another set of remains is discovered with Lowery's dog tags. Who are the other two people whose remains are found? Which set of remains is actually Lowery's? These questions must be answered.
The author also deals with important issues in this novel, such as the continuing effort by the government to identify the remains of servicemen who have been missing from United States conflicts. There is also the question of how servicemen who participated in the Vietnam war feel about their participation in the conflict so many years after the end of hostilities.
I enjoyed the story and the manner in which Dr. Tempe Brennan is able to solve a problem and find a murderer by using her intelligence rather than so many thrillers with the protagonists resorting to violence in order to get the answers they need.
This is the thirteenth novel in Kathy Reichs's series and represents a good accompaniment to the TV show, "Bones."
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"No man was ever shot by his wife while doing the dishes." Source unknown

A sniper kills five people from his perch in a parking garage and sets up former marine sniper, James Barr, for the killings.
When questioned, Barr refuses to talk but tells his attorney, get Jack Reacher.
Reacher arrives at Barr's sister's request but has no love for Barr. Reacher knows that Barr did kill a number of people during his time in the marines. Even though the people he killed in Kuwait City may have deserved their fate, Reacher arrives with the goal of helping the prosecution.
The defense attorney, Helen Rodin, is up against her father, as the prosecutor. Her father has a strong record of convictions and advises her not to take the case.
Helen decides to defend Barr anyway and convinces Reacher to look at the evidence. When he does, he feels that it's too good to be true. Then, he begins to dissect each part of the evidence against Barr.
Reacher is still adverse to helping defend Barr but when he leaves Helen's office, someone tries to set him up for a beating. He turns the tables on the attackers and becomes more interested in helping Helen defend Barr.
Reacher shows again that he's the one person who could be counted on when there seems no hope. His military training as a homicide investigator makes him more analytical and his physical size and skills with weapons gives him the tools he needs to overcome his adversaries.
This is a well plotted novel. Lee Child has the ability to make the person that Reacher is helping into a sympathetic character and Reacher is the savior. Parts of this story were predictable but the story kept me turning the pages to see how Reacher would achieve an almost impossible goal.
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Broken Promise