Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as the conscience that dwells within us." Sophocles

When someone has ascended to the height of a profession, others are compared to them, some deservedly, some not.

With "The Lost Witness," Robert Ellis has been compared to Michael Connelly and I believe that the comparison is just.

In this story, Lena Gamble, L.A. detective is given a case of a body that was found dismembered in a dump. Lena is disliked by her superiors because of the way she handled a prior case in which a police officer was involved. The result was that for the last six months, she has been doing administrative work. Now she wonders if she is being set up with the new case.

As Lena investigates the murder, she is sent a drivers license identifying the Jane Doe as Jennifer McBride. Unfortunately, when Lena attempts to tell Jennifer's mother about her daughter's death, the woman tells Lena that her daughter has been deceased for over two years. Back to square one, Lena now has to find out who the Jane Doe was who stole the other woman's identity.

Lena and detective Rhodes follow the leads to a doctor who made a number of calls to the victim. The doctor, Joseph Fonatine, has something to hide but the detectives can't pin it down. Since the doctor also has friends in high office, the detectives are ordered to tread lightly.

The hunt for the killers goes through various trails, all the while, providing excellent tension as one clue and then another is revealed. At the same time, Lena discovers that there is corruption and deceit within her department and she may be the next target of those attempting to keep the facts of the case from going public.
Just when the reader might think that they have it figured out, Ellis plants another surprise in the story and this kept me at the edge of my seat.

The story was unique and the gradual manner in which Lena figures out what is happening was great. Lena Gamble seemed like a Jason Bourne of the Los Angeles police department. She is determined, ready to stand alone if necessary but smart and with the keen detective sense to know where to turn to find the answers. I was greatly entertained by this novel and recommend it strongly.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"The ink of a scholar is more sacred than the blood of a martyr." Mohammed

As "Blood Junction" begins, the reader experiences that tragic manner in which the area got its nick name.
In present day, India Kane travels to this rural area in Australia to meet her friend Lauren for a mini vacation. India's car breaks down in a desolate part of the desert and she gets a ride to town with Terence Dunn. She stays at a local ranch that night and in the morning, the police storm in and arrest her for killing Dunn and her friend Lauren.
The police attempt to coerce a confession through barbaric manners. India maintains her innocence and she is finally permitted to leave the jail when an unknown person provides her bail. After that India, former police officer, Mickey Johnson and Det. Jeremy Whitelaw, an Aborigine, investigate the killings.
Through a complex plot and many suspects, the story continues and the reader learns of a scheme to eliminate the Aborigine race. Although hard to believe, the author gives the facts in such manner that the scenario is believable.
The hunt for the killers is dramatic and suspenseful. We also learn a secret of why India was asked to come to this place by her friend, Lauren. This secret centers on much of the story.
The plot is on the grand scale and entertaining. India as a character is an enticing heroine who is gutsy and determined. In addition, the author's description of the sparse Australian country and the people was well done.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"The first step in a person's salvation is knowledge of their sin." Seneca

In "Beyond Salvation" author Darcia Helle has given her fans another enjoyable reading experience.
This is the second book with Michael Sykora as the central protagonist. The first Michael Sykora book is the equally enjoyable "No Justice."
Where the author has explored caring for an ailing adult parent in their later years, this work explores runaway teenagers and the perils that they can face.
Sixteen year old Sara Rivers is a runaway who is taken off the street by two men in a SUV.
Her teenage friends, Derek and Jay, had once done a reformed prostitute named Nicki a favor. Now they want her help.
Because they are runaways with their own baggage, they can't go to the officials for help. Even if they did, they don't believe that there would be much attention given to a missing teen.
Nicki is friends with Michael Sykora, who knows how to get things done. He is a software developer in the day and a hit man, known as the Ghost, who eliminates criminals who prey on the innocent. Michael particularly dislikes child molesters.
In this case, Michael is assisted by his friend and fellow hit man, Sean.
What they find is that there is a fundamentalist religious community that assists parents who feel that their children have strayed. They often resort to abducting the suspected youngster who, in their parents opinion, is beginning to move away from God's teaching. However, there are complications such as their particular attention to the young women they abduct and the means that they use to persuade them to do their wishes.
The characters are well described and it is easy for the reader to root for the success of Michael and his assistant. The plot was also interesting and informative. Overall, I recommend this book for those who want to not only read a good book but learn something at the same time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soul reapers are a fictional race of spirits who govern the flow of souls between the human world and the afterlife. Wikepedia

In "The Reapers" John Connolly has given his readers some background on two of Charlie Parker's humorous homosexual sidekicks.
Someone is after Louis because of something he saw when he was a teenager. We learn of Louis' childhood and the misfortunes that his family went through. It was the racial hatred that caused Louis' family that changed Louis from a shy child into a murderer.
The person hunting Louis is a man named Bliss. Bliss is known as a killer of killers, hence, a reaper. In his hunt for Louis, he targets not only the man himself but his partner, Angel, Louis' home and his businesses.
In a departure that demonstrates Connolly's versatility, it isn't Parker who is the central protagonist, but his friend Louis. In fact, Parker only makes a tangential appearance in the latter part of the story.
It is safe to say that there are no heroes in this dark story. The central characters are all men who have gotten where they are through killings and having others murder for them. The only decent character is a man named Willie who is the lone honorable man with a significant role in the story.
The plot, as always with Connolly, is highly original and the characters of Louis and Angel are two of the more unique characters in noir literature today. I don't think the level of suspense was as heightened as is usually the case with the Charlie Parker stories but overall this was entertaining.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"In any man who dies, there dies with him, his first snow and kiss and fight." Yevtushenko

This dark novel has Finnish Inspector Vaara called by Sgt. Valtteri, to inform him that black actress Suffia Elmi's body has been found murdered. There is evidence that it is a hate crime.

Vaara narrates the story in the hardboiled tradition of Hammett and Chandler. He is analytical and unemotional when dealing with these brutal crimes. In this case, he describes the quiet racism of the Hullu Poro area in Finland with the nights so cold that he must remove the battery of his Saab and bring it into his home to be sure the car will start in the morning.

We find that the room where Suffia had been staying has been paid for by Seppho Niemi and a complication arises since Vaara's ex wife Heli, left him for Seppho thirteen years ago.

This is an intense and deeply interesting novel about a part of the world so different from what we are accustomed to. With the story being told at Christmas time, the frigid weather is as much a character as any of the two legged characters. It is the time of darkness that adds to the depression of many people leading to alcoholism in many instances. In addition, when viewing the community's struggle in the winter, it is compelling to view what is necessary for some people to survive while others succumb.

A well written novel with an original plot. Inspector Vaara is an appealing character with his love for his current wife and dedication to his job while overcoming a family tragedy when just a young boy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"You can get any thing you want at Alice's restaurant." Old song.

It's the turn of the 20Th century in the industrialized Midwest. Alice Adams is a young woman of twenty-two. She's from a middle class family but has ambitions to rise up in society.

The difficulty is that Alice's family doesn't have the financial means to provide her with the necessities to compete with the other women that she wants to impress. For the big dance, she coerces her brother to take her and instead of going in a taxi, he borrows a friend's tin lizzy. She wears a dress already owned but her mother attempts to fix up by adding some lace, instead of flowers from a florist, she picks violets and by the time of the dance, they are withered and dead.

It seems as if the main there of the novel is the desire to get ahead in life, moving up in the financial and social hierarchy that existed. Alice didn't realize that to most of her acquaintances, a person must be born with these advantages.

Alice reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind." Both young women strive mightily to move up in society. Both women attempt to capture the most eligible bachelor, even if that person is promised to another. Both women have fathers who are past their time and living in the past.

Virgil, Alice's father, was a more sympathetic character, seemingly content with his life but persuaded to give up his passive existence and follow his wife's dreams of financial and social advancement even at the betrayal of his former employer, an old and trusting friend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics..." Disraeli

As much as "The King of Lies" is a mystery, it is also a family chronicle. In the North Carolina setting as Work Pickens travels to the countryside, to see his love, Vanessa, this reader felt an influence of fellow North Carolinian, Charles Frazier and is excellent "Cold Mountain."

Work Pickens is a defense attorney in Rowan County, North Carolina. He's called out of court and informed that his father's body has been found. Work's father, Ezra, a powerful but universally disliked man, has been missing for approximately two years. When Ezra's body is found, the story begins to spin.

The night, Ezra was last seen, the delicate family balance was destroyed. Certain facts about Work's sister, Jean, and her female companion, Alex, came to light. A physical confrontation developed between the controlling Ezra and Jean. Jean's mother attempted to intervene and Ezra pushed her aside. This caused Jean's mother to fall down the stairs to her death.

What's left of the family's mental strength disintegrates. Ezra takes a phone call and leaves the house, never to be seen again. Jean, suicidal to begin with, becomes more unhinged and Work becomes guilt-ridden that he hadn't acted to defend his sister or reveal to the public that his father caused his mother's death.

The author was nominated for an Edgar, Barry, Macavity and Anthony award for this novel. His follow up, "Down River" won the Edgar award for best mystery novel of the year.

Work is a man with human weakness. He's not a hard worker and doesn't love his wife but is reluctant to call off his marriage and make a new life with the woman he really loves. The female characters are not as strong. Work's wife, Barbara, his sister and his girlfriend, Vanessa are women who have been manipulated throughout their lives.

The story is told with a literary excellence and both the story and Work Pickens will remain in the reader's thoughts long after the book finds its place on the book shelves.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mysteries and My Musings: Dec Mystery/Crime Fiction Blog Carnival

Mysteries and My Musings: Dec Mystery/Crime Fiction Blog Carnival

"These be three silent things: The falling snow: the hour just before dawn: the mouth of one just died." Adelaide Crapsey

Take heed. Two nuclear weapons are stolen from a Russian nuclear complex.
In Zurich, arms dealer Pierre Kowalski still wants revenge for what John Wells did to him when he forced information from him in Long Island. Now Kowalski has paid a man named Markov, millions, to kill Wells.
The plan is to strike while Wells travels to his office.
Unaware of the sinister forces plotting his demise, Wells has been taking life easy after his last, life threatening, activity. Now he's driving to work with his fiancee and associate, Jennifer Exley.
There is a traffic snarl. Being a CIA agent with well tuned self preservation skills, Wells senses danger as one motorcycle passes him and then another is approaching weaving in and out of traffic. His quick thinking enables him to dispatch the assassins, but Jennifer is wounded.
In another part of this complex plot, near Ramadi, Iraq, Sayyed Nasiji plots with Sheik Ahmed Faisal. Their goal is to purchase the necessary materials and then assemble a bomb in the United States. Nasiji wants to give the United States a taste of what Iraq has gone through.
Wells is mad with the need to take revenge for those who injured Jennifer and he's sure he knows who is responsible. However, events transpire that make Kowalski nervous. He seeks Wells out and promises to provide Wells with info on the stolen weapons if Wells will agree to a truce with him.
From that tense moment on, the action continues with moving the bomb materials to where they can be set up to create devastation.
If the goal of a thriller, is to provide adventure and suspense, then Alex Berenson has accomplished his goal.
This is the third of the John Wells stories and he remains heroic, brave (almost foolishly so) and true to his country and his fiancee. I did find the plot a bit too complex at times but the action was there and the story was vastly entertaining.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper." Robert Alton Harris

This entertaining novel tells of Pietro Brnwa, a former hit man with the mob. Now he has entered witness protection and as the novel opens, he is an intern in internal medicine at Manhattan Catholic, a notoriously bad New York hospital.

His story involves finding his grandparents murdered when he, as Pietro, was fourteen. Later, he told a friend, the only thing he wanted was to find the killers and repay them for their crime.

He learns who killed his grandparents and takes care of business and finds that he's good at it. He continues as a hit man but with a moral code, he won't kill women or innocents.

Eventually, he meets the girl of his dreams, Magdalena, and is attempting to leave the life he was in when something goes wrong.

Interspersed with Pietro's history, we observe the present where he is Dr. Peter Brown working at the hospital when he has the misfortune of meeting one of his old acquaintances. The man, Eddie Squillante AKA Eddie Consol, tells Peter that information about his past will be revealed if Peter lets him die of the cancer that's killing him.

The author has stated that one of his influences is Raymond Chandler, and we see the hard boiled character and crisp dialogue that Chandler is known for, i.e. in "Playback" where Marloww's next door neighbor overhears a private conversation. She tells him, "I'm your next door neighbor. I was having a nap and voices woke me...I was intrigued."
Marlowe's response, "Go somewhere else and be intrigued."

When I began the book, I thought the debut novel by John Bazell would be an average story but to my surprise, this man writes a whale of a story. Some of the story seems a bit far out, such as Peter's old friend and now enemy bringing him to the shark tank in Coney Island to seek revenge. However, the story had a kick that was pleasurable.

The plot was original and Dr Peter Brown was certainly a unique character, although I hope I'm never in a hospital as one of his patients.

Well done.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Hard words break no bones." 17th Century Saying.

Officials ask Dr. Temperance Brennan's help with the body of a missing heiress, Rose Jermain. Temp's finding was that the woman died from hypothermia and was not the victim of foul play.
However, an anonymous phone call is received by the dead woman's father, alleging that Temp deliberately falsified the autopsy report. Temp defends her findings and is told that she has an enemy and it would be in her benefit to find out who.
The plot driven story weaves between Temp's current status where she is bound and locked in a small space, attempting to figure out how she got there and how she might escape and the events that led up to her predicament.
The early events include when the bodies of a number of elderly women are found and she must analyze and help determine the manner of death. Brennan and Lt. Ryan wonder if they are dealing with a serial killed of elderly women.
Complicating the situation is that as Temp is attempting to help the police by determining the cause of death and help find the killer of these women, someone seems to be sabotaging her work. The varmint who is doing this is fairly predictable but watching Temp figure out who it is, is still fun.
Kathy Reich's continues the story line with Brennan and with the TV show, "Bones." Reich presents the reader with enjoyable plots and situations for her heroine to work her way out of. Brennan is so real that the reader agonizes with her as her superior informs her that she missed a vital clue and a junior member of the team found it and received praise for her finding.
There also a nice chemistry between Temp and Lt. Ryan. I enjoyed this work and continue to appreciate the excellence of the author.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast." Charles Dickens

"Time to Hunt" tells the story of Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger and his spotter, Donnie Fenn.
The first part of the story relates how short timer, Donnie Fenn was sent to Viet Nam for an added tour when he refused to betray a fellow Marine accused of associating with peace marchers in Washington, D.C.
When he meets Bob Lee Swagger and they travel in country in Viet Nam, they cause such damage to the Viet Cong that Viet Cong officials contact their Russian advisor. One of the Russian's makes a connection to Swagger based on his weapon and the 173 grain bullets. These are the same rounds used in target shooting and this Russian had lost a shooting championship to Swagger. He is sent into the field to eliminate Swagger and his spotter.
What follows in the plot will leave the reader gasping with suspense and plot twists that the author adds to his story. Needless to say, everything isn't as it seems. The action goes from Viet Nam to Swaggers home in Idaho, then to Washington, D. C.
The novel is a good example of why the author is considered one of the top thriller writers in America. The plot is original and Bob Lee Swagger is an excellent character and true hero.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Once our minds are "tattooed" with negative thinking, our chances for long-term successes diminish." John Maxwell

In one of the most highly decorated novels of recent times, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" gives the reader one of the most enjoyable experiences that could be desired.
Mikael Blomkvist has lost a liable suit against Hans-Eric Wennerstrom and is facing prison.
Before beginning his prison term, Mikael is offered a job and a promise to be able to clear his name and get evidence that will convict Wennerstrom of Mikael's claims that he was a dishonest manipulator and misappropriated funds meant to help less fortunate people. To do this, Mikael must spend a year writing the family history of the Vangers and to research the disappearance of Harriet Vanger.
Harriet is the granddaughter of Henrik Vanger's brother and disappeared over forty years ago.
Part of the mystery is that Harriet disappeared from Hedeby Island. At the time there were only about sixty people on the Island. One of the men on the Island is Harriet's brother, Martin, who is now the CEO of Vanger corporation.
Mikael stays at a guest cottage on the Island and later contacts Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a twenty-four-year old hacker and a person with amazing common sense, perception and possessing a photographic memory. She is anti-social and has been classified as mentally incompetent. As the story begins, she is under legal protection of an attorney who attempts to control her by forcing her to gratify his sexual desires.
What Mikael and Lisbeth unearth is a multi-generational pattern of serial rape and murder.
Salander is one of the most memorable characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. She is slim, almost anorexic, she seems like a teen rebel with her piercings and tattoos but is as smart and relentless as anyone I've encountered in literature.
The author, Stieg Larsson, was the editor in chief of the magazine, Expo. He died in 2004 of a heart attack, not long after delivering the manuscript to the editors.
The novel has won or been nominated for:
Strand Critics Award nominee - Best First Novel
Macavity Award 2009 - Best First Novel
ITV Crime Thriller Award 2008 for International Author of the Year for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
Barry - Best British Crime Novel
Anthony Award nominee = Best Novel '09 and Winner: Best First Novel.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks." Heordotus

George Young is an attorney for a New York insurance firm. His work involves the analysis of suspicious insurance claims.
He's called to the home of Mrs. Corbett, widow of his company's founder. She's in ill health and wants George to look into what her son, Roger, was doing prior to the time he walked into the path of an oncoming truck and was killed.
In a story that "The Washington Post" compares to "The Bonfire of Vanities," George finds that Roger had a girlfriend. Eliska Sedlacek, a Czeck. She had a relationship with a Russian and she carried items into the United States for this man. In the man's last trip, he asks her to carry a larger package. This man is later killed and Eliska is informed that the man took something of large value that didn't belong to him and the people want it back.
Through the investigation, George learns things about himself that are significant.
Harrison has written a nice story that was originally commissioned as a fifteen-part weekly serial.
George Young is a sympathetic character. He shows his integrity by continuing his search even when danger builds. Harrison has given the reader an interesting plot twist which is almost enough to have the reader go through the story again, with the new information.
An enjoyable read.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Sow to the wind and you will reap a whirlwind" Bible

This novel is set in February 1979 with the Iranian revolution.
As Iran is in a life and death struggle after the Shah has left, a British helicopter company is secretly controlled by the Noble House of Hong Cong. The members of the company question how much longer they will be able to operate their bases throughout the land.
In Aberdeen, Andrew Gavallan and Linbar Struan discuss the direction of the Nobel House and what should be the proper course of management. It is easy to see that the two men detest each other.
The novel could well be a text book on the Iranian revolution. However, like most of the author's books, strict adherence to historical facts are not always the case.
Even back in 1979, the reader can read of the conflict Iranians had with Shiites and Sunnis as well as their distrust and dislike for outsiders such as the Americans, Canadians and British who were looking after their oil interests in Iran at the time.
The novel is lengthy and complex.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The one who cannot restrain their anger will wish undone what their temper and irritation prompted them to do." Horace

In rural Atlanta, a badly injured woman is hit by a passing car. She is alive but in critical shape. A torture victim.

Will Trent, a detective with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation goes to the accident scene and finds a cave where at least two victims were tortured. The local police resent his intrusion in their case. They order him to leave but before he does, he discovers a second victim, recently deceased.

As I was reading this story, I was surprised by the number of plot similarities between this 2009 novel and Lisa Gardner's "Hide" which was published by Bantam, January 30, 2007.

Both novels have an underground chamber, or room, in which victims are placed. The victims are either murdered or tortured there. Both novels have antagonists with a family connection. Both have an antagonist that was in need of mental care and both stories have a compassionate male protagonist with a no nonsense law enforcement female partner.

I enjoyed both stories and both contained a surprise but the similarities in plot was distracting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are the caves in which we hide." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Bobby Dodge is a Mass. State Police Detective. He's called to the scene of a gruesome mass murder that took place on the grounds of the old State Mental Hospital. Six bodies of children are found in an underground chamber, it is estimated that the crime took place over twenty five years in the past.
One body was tentatively identified by a chain around her neck as Annabelle Granger. However, a woman who read about the bodies being discovered, comes to the police department and admits that she is Annabelle and when she was 7 she gave the locket to her friend, Dori Petracelli.
Annabelle also bears a striking resemblance to Cathryn Gagnon who Bobby met at a hostage scene. When she was younger, Catheryn had been captive in an underground chamber but hunters heard her cries and rescued her. Later, in the hostage scene, Bobby had to shoot her husband who was threatening his family. After he came to know her, Bobby felt that Cathryn set up her husband.
Bobby and Detective D. D. Warren figure that Anabelle had been targeted by a predator and her parents relocated to attempt to save their daughter. Two years before this, Richard Umbrio had kidnapped twelve year old Catherine Gagnon but when the hunters rescued her, she testified against Umbrio and he was in prison when in 1982, her parents reported a prowler who they later thought was a predator.
The investigation moves back to the State Mental Hospital. A records search finds two possible suspects and the reader learns what these men did and why they needed hospitalization. Both men had since been released but the authorities questioned their mental stability.
Lisa Gardner creates suspense as if she were a chef, putting the ingredients together for a feast. The momentum increases with the well crafted plot. In addition, the author provides a surprise toward the novel's conclusion which was excellently described. Annabelle is a sympathetic character who develops into a confident woman, in control of her destiny. The antagonist was well portrayed but the reader will have to learn just how by turning the pages themselves.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way." John Tudor

If it's possible for something to go wrong, it will.

This seems to be the motto of the Border County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Leonard M. Blood. Blood is ordered to serve a notice of eviction on Glenn Allen Ables for tax evasion. He realizes that there is danger involved so asks for the help of two deputies. Ables happens to be an anti government survivalist. When Blood attempts to serve the document, one of his deputies is shot and wounded, another, barely escapes.

Huddleson, Montana seems to be a no nonsense area where they don't seem to take any prisoners. The Huddleson Police Department under firebrand Chief Moody, is called out and not long after, shots are fired, one of the sheriff's men is killed and, as we will later learn, so is one of Ables' children.

With the situation worsening and memories of Waco, Texas fresh on the minds of law enforcement officials, John Banish, an FBI negotiator is called in. Also in attendance at this time is Reginald Perkins, agent in charge, Butte, Montana. A turf war springs up and Deputy Fagin, head of the Marshal's Special Ops Group is attempting to command the situation.
In other words, chaos reigns. This story concentrates on the action taking place without much character build up. As a result, it reads more like a lengthy newspaper report than as a novel.
"The Standoff," a first novel by Chuck Hogan, describes the intricacies of crime scene negotiating and the intense feelings of anti government feeling that exists in some areas of rural America. The author appears to look on as an outside observer and present the legal aspects of the decisions that law enforcement officials make in the time of crisis.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Look not mournfully into the Past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve your Present." Longfellow

Reporter Ellen Gleeson is raising her adopted son, Will, by herself. One day she sees a flier, "Have you seen this Child?" Something makes her look again. The photo looks amazingly like Will. How could that be?

Being a reporter, she investigates. She searches Google and the family looking for their son, Carol Braverman is looking for her son, Timothy. It's uncanny.

Somewhat concerned, she checks the adoption records and everything seems in order. Just to be sure, she calls the attorney who handled the adoption and finds that she is dead, suicide.

With increased anxiety, she looks at the adoption form and checks the birth mother, Amy Martin. She also manages to get Carol Braverman's DNA by following her to a bar and getting a cigarette she had smoked and discarded.

At the home of Amy Martin, she finds a photo of a man, Ellen begins referring to as, the Beach Boy. Soon after, Amy is found dead. Her friend, Melanie Rotucci thinks that Amy may have taken tainted drugs. She also tells Ellen that Amy had been dating a guy named Rob Moore who used to smack her around. This was four years ago, just at the time, the adoption process was starting.

Now, Ellen comes to believe that this Rob Moore was involved in the adoption. She believes that Will is really Carol Braverman's son Tim and Rob is now eliminating anyone involved in the adoption. Can she stop him before he gets to her and Will? Must she give up the thing she loves the most, her son, Will?

A well done, fast moving drama. This would be perfect for the screen and I would look forward to seeing Ellen portrayed by Nicole Kidman or Renee Zellwiger. The author's description of Ellen is so well done, that it feels as if Lisa Scottoline actually knew this fictitious person. Great suspense, great action, heartaches and drama!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Every Goodbye Makes The Next Hello Closer"

An arrested prostitute calls FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quincy claiming to have important information for her. Deliah Rose tells her that a wealthy john is taking street prostitutes to his place, then paying them to let his poisonous spiders crawl on them and engage in other dangerous activities. She states that her friend Ginny was with him and has vanished. Delilah has found Ginny's boyfriend's school ring in the john's car and wants Agent Quincy to stop him.

Kimberly's associate, Sal Martingnetti also informs Kimberly that he's worried that someone is picking off hookers. Twice he has had the drivers licenses of three women placed on the windshield of his car. But, no bodies have been found so it's difficult to get his superiors to permit him to mount an investigation. Even though Kim is five months pregnant, a time that women might begin to take things easier, she decides to work with Sal to attempt to find and stop the person responsible for his crimes against the prostitutes.

One night they follow Delilah down a street where they know that Ginny's boyfriend was shot and realize that Delilah is really Ginny. Ginny admits it and tells them that she calls the john Dinchara, a play on the word arachnid because of his fetish with spiders. She realized that Dinchara gets a kick when someone shows fear so when she didn't scream after Dinchara placed a black widow spider on her, he let her live. He does make her turn tricks and once per month he meets her and gets a payoff.

Kim and Sal must find a way to get Ginny to take them to Dichara and get enough evidence to convict him of his crimes. They propose Ginny wear a wire. Then they find that Dinchara has a teenage boy helping him and is also grooming a younger boy. Now their mission is to stop Dinchara and rescue the boys.

The author knows suspense and has given her readers a story that will keep them mesmerized until the end. She tells her readers that the idea for the story came from her adorable daughter who became obsessed with spiders. Her characters are well described and the antagonist was truly evil, not only doing terrible things to people but training young children to help him in his crimes.

A well done novel that will keep Gardner's fans coming back for more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"There are souls which fall from heaven like flowers, but ere they bloom are crushed under the foul tread of some brutal hoof." Jean Paul

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called to the location of a man found murdered in the bistro in Three Pines, Canada.

From the moment the body of the Hermit is found, the author perfectly captures the soul of this quaint area in Quebec. I was captured at the start of the novel. The first words, "All of them? Even the children? The fireplace sputtered and crackled and swallowed his gasp. "Slaughtered?"

I was hooked.

Louise Penny is a very descriptive writer. I believe that her books would be easy to transition to the world of film. In fact, as I learned more of Oliver Broule and the Hermit, and the Hermit's home in the woods filled with treasures, I was picturing the story unfolding as a made for TV drama, perhaps on Mystery Theater.

Louise Penny's writing reminds me of the great Agatha Christie and I can't help comparing Armand Gamache with Hercule Poirot, from his quiet, unassuming manner to
his extreme politeness to the characters and suspects in the story and to his use of logic to solve the puzzle of who killed the Hermit and how did the body get to the bistro.

This is the fifth story with Chief Inspector Gamache and the critics knew from the start that Louise Penny was a star in the making. Her first Armand Gamache novel, "Still Life" won the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony and Dilys Awards.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

"I saw gas lamps in the Chinese shops in Shanghai.I saw their elimination by electric lights." Hu Shih

P.I. Lydia Chin is asked by her mentor, Joel Pilarsky, to help locate missing jewelry dating back to WWII. In Shanghai, a cache of jewelry had been found and identified as belonging to European Jews attempting to escape Hitler's influence. Shortly after being found, a Chinese official is suspected of stealing the jewelry.
Not long after being hired to look into the missing jewelry, Joel is murdered. Additionally, one of the pieces of jewelry that Rosalie Gilder brought out of Germany is the Shanghai Moon, a rare, valuable gem.
When Joel is killed, Lydia's former partner, Bill Smith, contacts her and they decide to work the case together. A usual part of the novels with Bill and Lydia contains a bi-play about their personal relationship but there is little of that in this story.
Lydia is told by her friend Mary Kee, a detective in New York's 5th precinct, that a Chinese citizen, who was a policeman, has been killed. He had been looking for Wong Pan, the official accused of taking the jewelry.
Besides the mystery story, S.J. Rozan is providing her readers with a history lesson. Rosalie Gilder's letters to her mother, during the time of turmoil in WWII gets right to the human feel for the trials Jews were subject to at that time. I felt as if I was reading an updated "The Diary of Ann Frank" from the point of view of a young woman exposed to the terrible aspects of War and the manner the persecution of Jews can affect innocent people.
The plot is complex but the story is interesting and enlightening. Worth the effort.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"When Saladin was fighting the Crusaders, he would warn them, he would offer them a truce, he would go the extra mile before attacking. Michae Scheuer

In 1958, Jimmy and Dave Robicheaux were swimming in the Galveston Bay when sharks appeared nearby. A young woman, Ida Durbin, rescued them and forever left her imprint on their lives.

Jimmy, particularly, becomes infatuated and finds that Ida has been working as a prostitute to pay off a family debt. Just when Jimmy and Ida were going to run away to Mexico, Ida disappears.

Years later, Dave learns from a dieing friend that Ida was snatched by two policeman who were on the pad. They were paid by the owner of the house of prostitution.

Shortly after learning this, Dave is assaulted. He gets his job back at the Iberia Sheriff's department. Sheriff Helen Soileau wants him to look into the murders of women who are abducted in Baton Rouge and killed. The last victim was a young woman in New Iberia who might have been a victim of opportunity. When he gets the job back, it gives Dave the chance to look into Ida Durbin's disappearance.

There is a continuing dispute between Dave and Val Chalons. Val is a TV personality and when his sister is murdered, a set of Dave's prints are found in her home. Val makes public this information and the fact that Dave has just married a Catholic Nun. This escalates the conflict to one of physical nature where Dave puts Val in the hospital and almost loses his job. However, after a period of desk duty, Dave goes back on the trail.

James Lee Burke is one of the best mystery writers in America. He is one of only three people who have won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel, two times. "Crusader's Cross" continues his excellent writing. The plot is unique, the descriptive writing is excellent and Dave Robicheaux is one of the best protagonists in literature, he is sincere, religious, brave and generally, a good guy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Double double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble." Shakespeare

Special Investigator J. P. Beaumont has been assigned to the new Special Homicide Investigation Team. He returns from vacation and goes to the autopsy of the sixth victim who has recently been murdered and dumped in the Seattle, Washington area. All the victims were young, Spanish women. They had been wrapped in tarps and burned so that what remained was just ashes and bones. All of the prior victims had their teeth removed to prevent identity but Beaumont is told that the latest victim still had her teeth.
While this is happening, in Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff Joanna Brady is told of a homicide in her jurisdiction. The manager of an ATV park is found dead, run over countless times by ATVs, his body being guarded by his dog.
Brady and Beaumont have a history together. They worked on a case years ago and both felt some spark between them. However, Brady was married and neither pursued it.
Beaumont's investigation starts to move forward. Through dental records, the last victim is identified. The nearest kin turns out to be Jaime Carbajal, a detective in Joanna Brady's homicide department. Beaumont discovers that the woman had been living in a mobile home and had a quantity of money. Connections are made to a Miguel Rios, who makes money from helping poor people cross the border from Mexico for a fee. Then, if the young women couldn't pay the fee, Rios forces them into prostitution.
It is interesting to see the two protagonists of Jance's many novels work together. It is also worthy of note that the many illegal emigrants face so many obstacles and being forced into prostitution is just one of them.
A pleasant read that moved from the investigation in the state of Washington to Arizona, by the Mexican border. However, jumping from one investigation to the other without chapter breaks was sometimes confusing. Still, the author knows how to tell a story and this was a pleasant read.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"To be left alone, and face to face with my own crime, had been just retribution." Longfellow

4 1/2 stars.

In this fine novel which was nominated for an Anthony Award for the Best First Mystery Novel, a predator stalks and rapes law student Chole Larson and escapes.

Twelve years later, a string of murders have occurred in the Miami area. A policeman pulls a car over for a traffic offense and when the driver of the car refuses to allow the officer to check his trunk, a K-9 unit is called. The dog whiffs something. On popping the trunk, they find a dead girl with a missing heart. William Bantling demands his lawyer.

He's brought before the court and prosecutor C.J.Townsend. She wonders if Bantling is the serial killer or a copy cat. Then, she hears the man's voice and remembers it. Even though it's been twelve years, C.J. remembers the attach, the break-up of her relationship and her nervous breakdown. She had moved to Florida, changed her name and passed the Florida bar exam. She's able to survive with drive and periodic visits to her analyst.

When C.J. recognizes the voice, she becomes more determined than ever to make sure that the man who raped her and killed the woman in the car, gets what he deserves. However, C.J. must be careful that she stays impartial and then she can have her retribution.

This is a wonderful, plot driven novel. C.J. Townsend is a first rate protagonist, sympathetic, yet strong in her resolve. The author adds an interesting but somewhat predictable plot twist at the end of the story which heightened the enjoyment.

Film rights have been sold to Warner Brothers and John Wells productions, the film is currently in production.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"A bad neighbor is as great a calamity as a good one is a great advantage." Hesiod

Sandra Jones, a high school teacher, puts her daughter, Ree, to bed before going to bed herself. Then she hears a sound coming from the stairs...When her husband, Jason, comes home from his night shift job at the newspaper, Sandra is missing.
Sgt. Detective D. D. Warren, last seen in Gardner's 2007 novel, "Hide" knows that the spouse is always the prime suspect when the other spouse goes missing or is killed. However, when she attempts to interview Jason, he is uncooperative, almost nonchalant.
Is it the husband who is guilty of doing whatever happened to Sandra?
Is it the neighbor, Adrian Brewster, whose room overlooks the Jones' bedroom and is a registered sex offender? Could it be Ethan Hastings, a 13 year old student at Sandra's high school and who has a crush on her? Or, could it be a late comer in the story, Wayne Reynolds, a state police computer analyst who had met Sandra at a school basketball game and had been meeting her for the weekly basketball games?
The story continues with Sandra's father, Judge Maxwell Black, entering the scene and demanding he be given visitation privileges to his granddaughter. Sandra had no relationship with her father and had accused him of mistreatment and causing her mother's death.
As we read on, we are privileged to know the various character's thoughts and knowing that, it is difficult to see who might be the guilty character.
It is obvious that the author enjoyed writing this book and her sense of having fun with the plot comes through. "The Neighbor" is a well written, fast moving story that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud in the old TV days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A child shall lead them.

In "Knock Out: An FBI Thriller," a seven year old girl, Autumn Backman, contacts FBI Special Agent Dillon Savich after seeing him on TV. Dillon stopped a bank robbery and shot one of the robbers as she was about to execute the bank guard. Autumn is able to communicate with Dillon telepathically.
In Titusville, VA., Autumn runs away and hides in Sheriff Ethan Merriweather's home. She tells Ethan that a man named Blessed is after her and her mother, Joanna. She also warns Ethan not to look into Blessed's eyes because if a person looks Blessed in the eye, Blessed can control their thoughts.
We learn that Blessed is Autumn's uncle and with Autumn's telepathic ability and his mind control talent, he thinks he can be of use to the family.
Savich continues to hunt for Autumn but one robber who escaped the bank and the person in the get away car return to Savich's home to take revenge on him for killing the girl's mother. However, FBI agents were staking out Savich's home and the two outlaws barely escape.
"Knock Out" is a fun read. The action never stops and the reader is caught up in the excitement. The author states that she is influenced by Agatha Christie and Michael Connelly, among others; however, in this novel, I see an influence of Stephen King, particularly in his novel "Firestarter."
Hop aboard for the ride, you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"A greedy mind is satisfied with no amount of gain." Proverb

Charlie Hood is back after his adventures in "L. A. Outlaws."
After the shooting and internal affair investigation in that story, Charlie asks for a more quiet division. He is assigned to the Antelope Valley Division.
While he and Officer Terry Laws were riding together, Terry is murdered by a man with an automatic weapon. Charlie wonders if the killer's gun jammed or did they want to leave him (Coleman) alive as a witness.
Internal Affairs reassigns Charlie to their unit so he can lead the investigation into Laws' killing. It doesn't take long for Charlie to see that Laws was a crooked cop, from the expensive mansion he lives in, to a bogus charity, to the weekly deposits of $7,200. into his account.
Laws and Coleman Draper arrested Shay Eichrodt, supposedly because he just killed two cartel couriers. There was $340,000 in his trunk which they brought to the leader of the cartel in Mexico and began their weekly payoffs by carrying the money over the boarder.
This novel was not up to the excellence of "L. A. Outlaws." In my opinion, the author felt that his readers would already be familiar with the protagonist. Therefore he did not do much character development. In addition, there were times that it was confusing to follow when the writing changed from first person to third person in a short sequence.
Finally, Coleman Draper was an unusual antagonist. At times he seemed honorable and sincere but at others, he didn't hesitate to either take a life or order someone killed. Perhaps the author is telling us that although a character may be evil, it is still possible to possess some good traits.
This author is one of only three people to have won the Edgar Award for Best novel two times. The other two are James Lee Burke and Dick Francis. That is nice company.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Revisiting an old short story.

The year is 1954, Kek Huuygens is a smuggler. He gets a call from a friend from the Resistance that a fugitive and his wife need a first rate smuggler.
Fifteen years ago, before Kek changed his name, he worked in the Resistance. SS Colonel Wilhelm Gruber murdered Kek's parents and sister in reprisal for Kek's killing a
German soldier. Since Kek was being hunted, he had to leave the area and his girlfriend behind. To make matters worse, Gruber then married Kek's old girlfriend.
Now Kek learns that the fugitive is Gruber. He wants to escape from Portugal and smuggle his art collection with him. Kek works with the two men who worked with him in the Resistance, Michael Morell and Andre. They plan how to take their revenge.
This plot based story has little suspense. It is interesting from a historical point of view and to see how things have changed in the last 50 years.
"The Hochmann Miniatures" was nominated for an Edgar Award for best short story in 1967. It was originally published in "Argosy" in 1966.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is a follow up to "Big City, Bad Blood."
P.I. Ray Dudgeon reluctantly accepts a case to find out what was behind Joan Richmond's recent murder by Steven Zhang. Isaac Richmond, a retired army colonel, tells Ray that he needs closure. He had been speaking with his daughter when she went to answer the door and was killed by Zhang.
Through Ray's best friend, reporter Terry Green, Ray finds that Joan's prior employer was H.M. Nichols, military contractors. There are rumors of assassinations and sabotage by the company's employees. Joan ran the payroll department and now a congressional committee is looking into the company's billing practices. Joan was scheduled to testify to the committee.
When Ray speaks tot he head of H.M. Nichols, he's given a cursory meeting and introduced to Blake Sten, VP of corporate security. Sten attempts to intimidate Ray without success.
What Ray and his buddy. Gravedigger, surmise is that Steve Zhang found something in the company's computer files. Sten fires Zhang with a fabricated story and soon both Zhang and Joan are dead.
I was captivated by the story. Not only is Ray a good detective, in the Sam Spade image (tough and few words), but he shows his shortcomings in his obsession with his former girlfriend, being afflicted with a bad shoulder, and making mistakes that cause two character's deaths. The author also provides some nice plot twists that made the story even more interesting and did a fine job with character development.
Critics agree. "Trigger City" has received the following nominations and awards.
Agatha Award nominee: 2009
Barry Award nomination: 2009
Crimespree Award, Favorite Book of 2008
Dilys Award

Monday, October 19, 2009

Peyton Place Meets The Dukes of Hazard

Workmen digging a well, in Brenham, Texas, find the body of a young woman who disappeared ten years ago.
The Sheriff knows he isn't the brightest lawman and has been informed that he better solve this case or there will be a new name on the ballot next election. He asks Jeremiah Spur, an ex-Texas Ranger for help.
Jeremy has only been retired for six months and is working on his ranch amidst a lengthy drought and thinking about his daughter who is dieing of cancer in a nearby hospital.
Martin Fletcher, the Preacher's son is a military extremist. He and his friend, Dud Hughes, rob a liquor store in preparation for robbing something bigger. Complications happen and he and Dud kill the store manager and the manager's mother who has come to pick her son up and drive him home.
The town's best cop is Clyde Thomas, a black deputy who was a former Dallas policeman. He and Jeremiah, and Clyde's girlfriend, assistant district attorney Sonya Nichols team up to solve the case.
The story is told with humor and empathy for the way of life in a small Texas town that has suffered from an epidemic of blackmail, illicit sex, bigotry and dirty politics. Hime writes the story with such skill that the reader is engrossed in the story and is make to feel as if he or she was sitting on the bench, in front of the town courthouse watching the events ans they unfold.
The characters are well developed. Jeremiah Spur is an excellent protagonist in the strong silent Texas type and Clyde reminded me of Sidney Pottier in the 1967 movie "In the Heat of the Night" with his strong, prideful manner and professionalism.
The novel was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thrilled With Delight

Here's a novel so packed with action and suspense that movie fans who enjoyed Jason Bourne will think they have a new hero.

As other reviewers have noted, there is a combination of Nicholas Cage's "National Treasure" and Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code."

The plot centers on the discovery of the final revelation given to Muhammad. The new words contain a strong rejection of Islimists who embrace violence to meet their objectives.

Scot Horvath, the counter terrorism operative, saves a man earmarked for death in a car bomb. Anthony Nichols was working on the discovered document and the Islimists wanted to stop him.
Finding the missing piece involves obtaining a rare manuscript before it the militant Islimists can get their hands on it and destroy it.

I found the plot both interesting and informative. It gave me an increased understanding of Muslims and the part of their belief where one Muslim is not supposed to harm a fellow Muslim.
Scot Horvath is the heroic character that I enjoy reading, as he eliminates the terrorists who want to harm the United States or their citizens.

Some of the antagonists, however, were rather cardboard figures. The actions of Sheik Mahmood Omar and Abdul Waleed seemed overly convenient and naive. Matthew Dodd was also perplexing with the dichotomy of his being a CIA agent, then converting to Islam and becoming an assassin for the Islimists because of the tragedy to his family. This seemed illogical, as if he would be changing to the very people who caused his misery.

Overall, the story was entertaining.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Whiskey Gulf" less than desired

Mayday! Mayday! A report goes out to the Coast Guard. Suddenly, silence...There's a military exercise in the area of Whiskey Gulf and all boats were warned to stay clear.
Marine private investigator Charlie Noble is asked to find out what happened to the people on board the boat.
Whiskey Gulf is a waterway on the boarder of United States and Canada near Vancouver Island. Charlie's inquiries are stonewalled in both countries. However, he meets an investigative reporter, Maya Shimazu who has written an article about the missing boat. She believes she has info about the boat and goes with Charlie to the area where the boat went lost. They find pieces of fibreglass with explosive burn marks on the edges. Suddenly they are startled to see a torpedo speed through the water near their boat.
They make it back and Charlie continues his inquiries with the help of an American Indian, who goes by the name Raven. His inquiry will be to see what happened to the people and why both countries are ignoring his request for more information.
There is excessive technical information in this novel. So much so that I felt I was taking a course in seamanship. In addition the reader was given pages upon pages of detail about the history of the area and of the legend behind the mountains. This was distracting and lessened the flow of the story. Charlie never became a sympathetic character and the reader was kept out of what had happened to the people in the boat for so long that I didn't care why they were missing to begin with.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mayhem in Manhattan

Action abounds in Lee Child's "Gone Tomorrow." Jack Reacher is on a New York subway and eyeballs a woman sitting across from him. From Israeli intelligence, he recalls the eleven points to look for in a female suicide bomber. She has almost every sign. As he approaches her to ask if he can help, she pulls out a gun and kills herself.
After giving his statements to the police, he meets the brother of the woman on the train, also a cop. He tells Reacher that his sister, Susan Mark, wouldn't have committed suicide. Something happened to make her do it. He also informs Reacher that his sister worked for the Pentagon.
There are men outside the train station who ask Reacher if the woman handed him anything or mentioned the names John Swanson or Lila Hoth. She didn't but the names give Reacher subjects to investigate. He buys a book written by Congressman John Swanson about his life. He discovers that Swanson was in the Delta Forces and received a number of medals but the details aren't given.
Reacher goes to Washington, DC and speaks to Swanson but doesn't learn anything. Then back in New York, he meets Lila and her mother. They tell him that the mother, Svetlana was supposedly Ukrainian and was attempting to find a soldier who had a relationship with her in Berlin and that Susan Mark was helping them.
As the fast moving plot speeds along, we are given insight into Reacher's reasoning and find that there were holes in Lila and her mother's story. They appeared sympathetic but were pulling a scam. They wanted info that would embarrass the Congressman or the United States. Reacher must find the memory stick that Susan stole from the Pentagon but Congressman Swanson's aide tells Reacher he's better off not knowing what's on the tape.
Child's last novel, "Nothing to Lose" wasn't up to his prior excellence but with "Gone Tomorrow" he's back at the pinnacle of action thrillers. We have more insights to Reacher's thought process which makes him more interesting. It is also somewhat different to see him work with others as opposed to being "The lone stranger."
Most of the action takes place in Manhattan and the author describes the city and its inhabitants to perfection.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Turmoil in Scotland

With the popularity of cold case crimes on TV and in the theater, Val McDermid has given us a double with "A Darker Domain".
Det. Inspector Karen Pirie and Det. Sgt. Phil Parchatka of the cold case squad are asked to find a man who has been missing since 1984.
Michelle "Misha" Gibson is searching for her dad, Mitch Prentice, as a possible bone marrow donor to save her son, Luke, who has Faconi Anemia. Misha explains that the reason that she and her mother, Jenny, didn't report Mitch missing sooner was that he supposedly became a strike breaker in the miner's strike of 1984. Since the family was such a staunch supporter of the strikers, Mitch's move to join the strike breakers was seen as an act of betrayal and they didn't want to have anything to do with him.
While Karen is starting her search for Mitch, she's ordered by her superior to the home of Sir. Broderick Grant, one of the wealthiest men in Scotland. Grant's daughter, Cat, and her son were kidnapped in 1984. Grant has a controlling personality and used his influence to go to the payoff. He also brought his gun. Something got mixed up and when Cat went to get the money, there were a number of shots and she was killed. Her son was never found.
Now a tourist, Bel Richmond, is on vacation in Tuscany. While jogging she comes to an old villa and decides to inspect it. She finds some important evidence about the kidnapping. However, before sharing it with Grant, she wants an exclusive. He agrees and she does more snooping in the Tuscany area.
The two cases begin to converge. Bel is concentrating on the kidnapping while Karen searches for the missing person. With the use of flashbacks, we learn what the characters were doing back in 1984. This also helps the character development. With a multitude of characters, the plot sometimes became mired down, however, the pace picked up and the conclusion was packed with suspense.
Although the author often writes novels with ongoing characters, this is a stand alone novel. Karen Pirie was an excellent character, strong yet compassionate. I would hope to see her again and find if the relationship she has with her Sgt. develops into something more.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Babe Ruth of Books"

Children are being murdered in Stalinist Russia. At that time news of a mass murderer of children wouldn't be seen as good in the government run state so it was ignored or called something else.

However, Leo Davidov of the Ministry of State Security is a man with a conscience. When the family of one of his men is killed by the train tracks tell Leo that their son was found naked and was murdered, he feels an obligation to investigate. His superiors order him to pay no heed to the situation.

Vasili Nikiyin is Leo's conniving assistant. A true Machiavellian, Vasili manages to have Leo and his wife Raise thrown out of Moscow and sent to Voualsk.

Leo is demoted but still is an investigator and more children's bodies continue to be found, naked, their stomachs cut out and a string around their leg.

Leo goes to his superior, Maj Kuzmin and confronts him about the murders and tells him that they must investigate them. In Stalinist Russia, authorities didn't open an investigation unless they already had a suspect. Kuzmin tells Leo that he can continue to look into the murders but he's on his own.

Leo has had difficulty with his wife but Raisa sees his struggle to find the killer as a noble calling and decides to help. The Major also makes unofficial inquiries in the towns along the railroad line. They discover that 44 children have been murdered near the railroad tracks. However, Leo is denounced and arrested. He and Raisa are condemned to a labor camp.

How will Leo escape from the train carrying him to the labor camp?
Will Vasili get his ultimate revenge in seeing Leo's death?

These are the events that are described in the conclusion of this magnificent story. Leo has never heeded the common people of Russia but with Raisa's encouragement, he tells his story to the other people on the train and in the villages and they help him.

The author has done a wonderful job writing this story. Not only do we have the rekindled relationship between Leo and Raisa but the deception that was much of the life in Russia. Leo is a daring character, sympathetic and admirable. Raisa emerges as the real strength in the family. Vasisl's compulsive hatred for Leo and Raisa and his apparent success in bringing their downfall is similar to Javert in "Les Miserables."

Critical acclaim for the book has been unanimous.

Awards and nominations include:

"Los Angeles Times" Book Prize
Booker Prize - Shortlist
"The Strand" Critics Award
Anthony Award - nominee
Barry Award - nominee
Dilys Award - Nominee
Winner Thriller Award for best 1st Novel

Don't miss it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A modern day "Gunsmoke"

In the firth book with Walt Longmire as the protagonist, Walt is asked to house Mary Barsad in his jail to await her trial. She confessed to killing her husband, Wade, after he set fire to the family barn with Mary's horses inside.
This wonderful tale reminds me of the TV shows of the past.
At one point Walt is challenged to a fight in the town saloon, by an intoxicated moose of a man. I can picture this happening in an episode of Gunsmoke and Marshall Dillon disposing of the drunk.
Something in Walt's policeman's gut tells him that Mary's confession isn't right. She just doesn't have the outward manifestation of a killer. Walt decides to investigate, although the crime was not in his jurisdiction. He feels that he has to do the right thing. At one point he tells Mary, "It's important to me because I believe you're innocent and I've spent most of my life defending and protecting the innocent."
Walt poses as an insurance investigator and travels to the county where the murder took place. He deals with an interesting group of characters such as Hershel Vanskike, the ranch hand, and Cliff Clay, the apparent drunken bully.
Johnson has done a wonderful job with the story. His descriptions of the Wyoming setting leave the reader with a vivid photo of where the action is happening. Walt is a knowledgeable, kindly figure with a strong sense of duty. Mary is a bit too passive but that seems in order with what just happened to her. There is an excellent plot twist toward the conclusion that makes the book more memorable.
Don't miss this one.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Hit and Run" to the next book.

Lots of good dialogue in this John Keller story but not much drama.
Keller is a hit man on assignment. He's picked up at the Des Moines airport by his contact, given the choice of two guns to use for the job and after making his choice, dropped off at his hotel.
The next day, he reads about the Ohio governor being assassinated. The killer used a Glock automatic, the same weapon Keller had held the day before. When he sees his photo on CNN, he realizes that he's been made a skate goat for an elaborate frame.
He drives to New York in a stolen car and finds his associate Dot Harbison has apparently been murdered. His apartment has been broken into and his laptop and valuable stamp collection stolen.
Needing a place to hide, he decides on New Orleans. That city is still undergoing transition after hurricane Katrina and he thinks his presence won't be noticed. When he arrives, he's out walking and hears a woman scream. He considers running away before police come but instead goes to the scream and finds a woman about to be raped. He saves the woman and dispatches the rapist. The woman, Julia Roussard, recognizes him from the news but doesn't care. When Keller tells her he's being framed, she believes him and invites him to stay at her house. He gets a job doing home reconstruction and seems content.
In a surprising development, Dot reappears. She staged her death thinking that after Keller was in the news, someone would be coming after her. How she did it was a preposterous story, a Jehovah's witness came to the door of Dot's home, she killed the woman, who had false teeth, Dot also had false teeth so she put her's in the woman's mouth and set the home on fire so the woman would be identified as Dot by dental records. Not in a million years.
This narrative story has good pacing and dialogue. However, there's so little action that it could have been called "Murder in the Library." For most of the book, nothing happens. However, Keller is an interesting protagonist, he's brave in facing his opponents and yet compassionate when coming to the defense of Julia. Julia is also a nice character. There isn't much to her background except for her elderly father but I would like to see more of her in the future. Her belief in Keller is what probably changed his life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Connelly is simply the best

Jack McEvoy met the same fate so many people are experiencing today. He's given his pink slip from "The Los Angeles Times." There must be 100 cuts and he's number 99. However, he's given fourteen days to train his replacement, Angela Cook.
As Jack is mulling over his fate, he gets a call from Wanda Sessums, Alonzo Winslow's grandmother. She tells him that the paper has the wrong info. Lo did not confess to murder as the paper claims. Please check the facts, he's being set up.
Jack sees a chance to write one more story. Maybe he'll save his job, or maybe teach the paper that they're letting the wrong person go. He even thought that it might be the chance to write the book he's wanted to do.
After checking, he learns that Lo only said that he saw a purse on the front seat of a car so he stole the car and after taking the money from the purse, he opened the trunk and found the body of stripper, Denise Babbit.
Angela Cook does some research and learns that another woman died in the same way as Denise. This woman was also a stripper and was found in the trunk of her car with marks on her arms similar to Denise's.
The reader learns about a place called the Farm and a man named Carver. He is one of the killers. He has a web site for trunk murder search and learns of Angela's inquiry.Thinking things were getting too close, he uses his spy ware and sees that Jack is coming to Vegas to interview the man convicted on killing the first victim.
Carver wants to disrupt Jack. He gets Jack's credit card numbers and calls the company saying they were stolen so put a stop on them, then he finds Jack's email to his boss and deletes it. Finally, he calls the prison and says the prisoner Jack is coming to see, has a hit on him and they need to put him in isolation for his safety.
With all the things going wrong, Jack turns to the only person he could trust, Rachel Walling, the FBI agent he had an affair with when they were working "The Poet" case.
Rachel hears what's happened to Jack and her intuition kicks in. She thinks he's being isolated to be framed or killed so she flies to Vegas and waits for Jack in his room. She doesn't know then but this spoils the attempt on Jack's life by Carver's protege.
Jack and Rachel return to Jack's home and find Angela Cook's body under Jack's bed. Angela calls in the FBI investigators. They are able to trace the emails to the Farm and begin the investigation on Carver.
As usual, Connelly is at his best when dealing out the suspense. The plot was somewhat confusing with Carver and his assistant both being killers. However, Jack is a nice protagonist. He is sincere and shows his ethics in not taking back his job at the expense of another employee. He is also brave and heroic. Rachel is also a good character and reminds me of Jodi Foster in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Death's mirror shines light on the living

4 1/2 stars!

Michael Sykora felt this world collapse when his love, Christina, was raped and strangled. Her killer was a steroid abuser with a history of sexual assaults. Michael knew he needed some closure so after his associate, Sean, found the murderer, Michael made sure the killer would never bother another person. Michael found killing evil doers was providing a new reason to live so began his career as a part time hit man pursuing those who prey on the weak.

One day, Michael got a call from an old friend, Nicki. She was a former prostitute who Michael had a relationship with. Now, Nicki had gotten out of the street life and returned to school. She achieved her associate degree and worked at a women's shelter. One of her clients, Isabel, was constantly being beaten by her boyfriend, Antonio Lott. Nicki recommended that Isabel leave Lott before he hurt her even worse. Antonio thought that Isabel was telling Nicki about his cocaine dealing and child pornography distribution and wants to silence her, permanently.

Nicki can't go to the police because of her former occupation "Who'd believe a former hooker?" In addition, Lott had hidden some cocaine in her apartment so if the police came there they'd find the drugs and discredit her statements.

Michael agreed to help Nicki but learns that Lott has a gang that includes two cousins and two others. He also learns that police are investigating Lott and want to find who he deals with in the pornography so they are following him. How will Michael get to Antonio before Antonio can silence Nicki?

This is a well developed plot. The author states that she is influenced by Tami Hoag and James Patterson and her sense of drama might be due to that influence. Michael is a good protagonist. He has his humane features seen in dealing with his father's terminal illness, yet he cares for those less able to care for themselves. Nicki is also a well developed character. The author, Darcia Helle, states that she is also influenced by Janet Evanovich and Nicki seems like she could have jumped out of one of Evanovich's books to this one.

Overall, well done and recommended.

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Broken Promise