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.

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