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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I KNOW A SECRET

5 stars out of 5

This book won't be released till Aug. 15, but I was way too excited about the opportunity to read an advance review copy that I just couldn't wait to get started. That's because the author's "Rizzoli & Isles" series has been a favorite from the start (for the record, this is the 12th). While this one somehow seems a bit darker than most of the others I've read, it's no less well written.

The "darkness," I suppose, comes in part because medical examiner Maura Isles must come to terms with issues that haunt her past, such as her seriously disturbed (and long estranged) birth mother, who's in jail for life after being convicted of multiple murders. Still other characters, including police detective Jane Rizzoli, her uber-Italian mother and her police partner deal with issues of their own. Only Jane's hunky FBI special Agent husband, Gabriel Dean, seems to be home free in the issues department, and perhaps that's why he doesn't get much play here (drat).

At the beginning, Maura reluctantly has a meeting with her birth mother, whose parting words are cryptic as Maura gets a call from Jane that she's needed at the scene of a gruesome new case. A dead woman - a producer of indie horror films - has been found with her eyes removed and placed in her hand. But the eyes don't have it - the cause of death, that is. In fact, it isn't even clear even after Maura's initial autopsy. Could it be simply a case of life impersonating art? Jane and Maura hold that thought - that is, until a second victim turns up amid a similar scenario. Solving those two crimes moves ahead slowly even after Maura finally determines the very unusual COD; the police can find no connection between the two victims, no motive and no clues as to who the killer might be. 

But wait, there's more. Another female character is intently watching the goings-on; she's got a big secret from her past, and it's one that just may put her life in jeopardy as well. Chapters shift from the investigation to her point of view and back, all adding layers to the story that build up to a pretty scary conclusion (and non-conclusion, but I won't get into that here except to say it could provide interesting fodder for another book).

My conclusion? Loved this one as expected. Now please, Ms. Gerritsen, don't keep me waiting so long for the next installment!

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books, August 2017); 336 pp.

Monday, April 24, 2017

THE SILENT CORNER

5 stars out of 5


"Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on..."

--David Bowie

When I open a new Dean Koontz book, it's always with great enthusiasm. Whether or not I'll love it isn't an issue - the only question is what he will come up with to keep me engrossed this time. As expected, there's no "oops" here - he's done it again with this, the first of a series featuring FBI agent Jane Hawk. If I had to describe the book in just a few words, it would be Sarah Connor meets Jason Bourne in a fight to protect the future of the world (and yes, it would make a great movie, hint, hint).

A  recent and still grieving widow, Jane has taken a leave of absence from the FBI to deal with her husband's suicide - which she doesn't believe for a nanosecond really happened. Setting out to find the truth, she begins with a visit to another recent military widow whose death also was deemed a suicide because she suspects the same person or persons are responsible. Further digging turns up several similar incidents - both of military and non-military people - but no apparent connection.

As she pursues her research, she soon realizes "They" are out to get her (spy drones following her is an almost-dead giveaway). After managing to escape them, she pays a quick visit to her young son, whom she wisely stashed away with friends at the start of her investigation to make sure he's safe. It matters not to the story, but for the record, I was delighted to learn that his new guardians, like me, are George Winston/Windham Hill fans. 

As she begins to make some headway, though, Jane realizes there's no one she can trust - not in the government, not among friends and relatives and most certainly not among the ranks of the FBI. Almost from the start, she's forced to go off the grid, using disguises, fake names, burner phones and switched license plates to escape what she's sure will be capture and suspects will be much worse. Because she manages to get online and, in some instances, contact others, she's considered to be in the "silent corner" (aha, such is the stuff from which a title is born).

Needless to say, her online forays mean it's hard to miss day-to-day news - not all of which, shall we say, is positive. From that springs one of my favorite quotes in the book - one with which I wholeheartedly (or more accurately, disheartedly) concur: "If you let the news spoil your appetite, there wouldn't be a day you could eat."

What Jane finds is a frightening conspiracy based on mind control. It's a concept that's a bit far afield, but given the pace of technology development these days, certainly not unthinkable. Jane's race is on, then,  determine the why, how and who - and possibly destroy the latter before "They" destroy her.

Pretty scary stuff, actually, with nary a dull moment in the action. The only downside? It's the first in a series, so expect an up-in-the-air ending. That, I assume, will be rectified with the Jan. 9, 2018, publication of the next installment, The Whispering Room, and of course it's on my calendar. That said, please, Mr. Koontz, could you hurry it up just a little?

And th-th-th-that's all folks, she writes, lest she give away too many secrets Except, that is, to say that as a long-time fan of this author, I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this terrific book. Many, many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley)!

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz (Bantam, June 2017); 464 pp.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

YOU WILL PAY

4 stars out of 5

Sex, lies and yes, even videotapes - the stuff of which soap operas are made - all come together in coastal small-town Oregon in this rather lusty novel. Murder? Check. Incest? Check. Throw in an Elmer Gantry-like leader of a summer camp for teenagers that's been closed for two decades, and you've got a solid start to your summer beach reading.

Camp Horseshoe closed after two of the still-teenage female counselors,   a hired hand and a convict who escaped from a nearby prison went missing. Now - 20 years later - Lucas Dalton, detective with the local sheriff's department and son of the aforementioned preacher man, is investigating the discovery of what appears to be human scull in a small cave on the bank of the water at which one of the missing counselors, Eleanor (Elle) was last seen. Complicating matters is that Lucas was Elle's serious love interest at the time; also, several of the other female counselors, led by Jo-Beth Chancellor, reportedly tried to put the fear of God into Monica shortly before she disappeared.

Today, all the camp participants, including Lucas, have gone on with their lives (mostly successfully), but the secrets they buried all those years ago now threaten to bring them down. Semi-estranged from his preacher father, Jeremiah, and his beautiful ex-stepmother Naomi, Lucas has secrets of his own that he hopes don't see the light of day. But as all the counselors involved in the scheme to scare Monica decide to return to align the stories they will once again offer to police, they face a nosy reporter who's desperate to get the real story for an online tabloid - a woman who was just as nosy as a camper 20 years ago. 

Chapters switch from viewpoints of the characters in the present and that fateful summer at camp - a technique of which I'm not fond, but it does allow details to be released little by little that shed more light on what really happened. Admittedly, that got a bit hard for me to follow in that there are so many characters to remember; besides that, there seemed to me to be an excessive amount of repetition from one recollection to another (although to be honest, that probably helped my aging brain keep all those characters straight). 

Tying up all the loose ends in one tidy package also tested the limits of believability for me, but then keep in mind I was a church camper back in the day, and the closest I ever got to high drama was having a bit of a crush - as did most of the other female campers - on a young, super-cute minister-counselor. All that meant, though, was that we sang "Kumbaya, My Lord" louder than necessary around the campfire in hopes of getting his attention. Kinky sex? Murder and mayhem? Fuhgettaboutit!

If you're looking for off-kilter characters in creepy settings, give this one a try. My thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy to read and review. 

You Will Pay by Lisa Jackson (Kensington, May 2017); 416 pp.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ALL BY MYSELF, ALONE

4 stars out of 5

Well-developed, intriguing characters. Interesting plot, albeit with no mind-bending surprises. What's not to like?

Not much, from my point of view. No, it won't jack up your blood pressure nor keep you anywhere from the edge of your seat. In fact, it's about as close to a "cozy" mystery as you can get without actually crossing that line (although some readers might argue that it does). In short, it's a perfect summer read - on the beach or, in my case, while enjoying spring weather on our back deck as it comes (finally) to our little corner of the world in northeast Ohio.

Admittedly, it got a bit repetitive in spots, and there were a couple of incidents that challenged credibility. As the story progressed, the more it brought to mind the old game of Clue: Colonel Mustard did it with a knife in the library. Or was it Professor Plum with candlestick in the kitchen? Still, overall it was a fun read - just don't expect a complex psychological mystery that will keep you awake nights.

The Queen Charlotte, a new, uber-luxurious ocean liner, had just set off on its maiden voyage from the Hudson River to Southhampton, England. With a capacity of 100 passengers and a crew of 85, it is the newest ship in the fleet owned by wealthy Gregory Morrison and designed to be an upgrade on the ill-fated Titanic. On board are hoity-toity, wealthy passengers like 86-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, nouveau riche like William Meehan and his amateur-sleuth wife, Alvirah, guest lecturers like Celia Kilbride, a noted gems and jewelry expert and an international thief known as The Man with One Thousand Faces. 

Most of the chapters focus on details of specific passengers; Ted Cavanaugh, for instance, wants to convince the elderly Lady Em to return her famous Cleopatra emerald necklace to Egypt instead of the Smithsonian, as she plans. The necklace, he argues, was stolen from the country by her ancestors and should be returned to its rightful owner. 

But not long after departure, one passenger goes overboard. Then three days out, Lady Em is found dead - murdered in her stateroom - and the storied emerald necklace is missing. Are all these events related? Is the international thief really on board and if yes, who is he? Who's got the necklace? Are Roger Pearson, accountant to Lady Em, and Brenda Martin, her long-time personal assistant, really the loyal employees they appear to be? Just about everyone on board, it seems, is hiding some kind of secret; little by little, chapter by chapter, those secrets are revealed and lead up to the conclusion.

All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster, April 2017); 337 pp.

Monday, April 17, 2017

THE BURIAL HOUR

4.5 stars out of 5

At nearly 500 pages, I'm pretty sure this is one of the longest Jeffery Deaver books I've ever read - at least of the series starring forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme. What it is not, however, is the best of the bunch.

To be sure, though, it's very good; and despite my grousing that I'd be reading it for several days, I surprised myself by polishing it off in just two. And for the most part, I enjoyed the experience from beginning to end - starting with the kidnapping of a man from New York's Upper East Side witnessed only by a young girl even though it took place in broad daylight. The perpetrator left behind a miniature noose made from a musical instrument string. Rhyme and his co-investigator (and soon to be wife), Amelia Sachs, are called in; shortly thereafter, a video is posted online showing the victim as he is slowly being hanged. Stranger still is that his gasps for air are synced to music, and the video is "signed" by someone called The Composer.

Search and seizure efforts by Rhyme and Sachs are only partly successful, and the kidnapper gets away. But then, a near identical incident takes place near Naples, Italy (noose and all), and in the flash of a private jet, the dynamic duo - accompanied by Rhyme's faithful and tough-nosed caretaker, Thom - make their way to the City of the Sun. The Italian police higher-ups clearly resent help from the Americans, but as Rhyme and Sachs sift through forensic evidence and prove their worth, the Italians grudgingly accept their insights. 

Meantime, readers learn the kidnapper's identity through interspersed chapters written from his perspective. Then fairly early on comes another case as a young American living and playing hard in Italy is arrested for battery and rape. Rhymes and Sachs are asked by the defense to help with this one as well - to look for evidence that suggests someone else could have done the dirty deed. As they begin to work on both cases, they learn that the Italian prosecutor on the rape case is the same guy who's carrying a chip on his shoulder about interference from the American duo on the kidnapping case. Oops - not exactly the way to win him over.

The original kidnapping case leads to an Italian camp that provides sanctuary for the thousands of immigrants who have fled their home countries in search of a better life (clarifying the meaning of the book's title and adding an element of timeliness to the plot). Clearly, there's plenty going on here.

But sometimes, plenty is too much. The details of the plot, the number of characters and the geographic settings seem to go on and on unnecessarily and, alas, with a lot less interaction than I like to see between Rhymes and Sachs. On the plus side, the loose ends (well, perhaps all but one) are tied up neatly. And, clues led me to suspect that many of those details and characters are meant to lay the foundation for a future book or books, so I'm willing to back off a bit on my criticism. In any event, it's for sure I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment - love this series!

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing, April 2017); 480 pp.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE REMOVERS

5 stars out of 5

Any time I come off of reading a particularly intense, or intensely disappointing, book, my inclination is to reach for something that doesn't require lots of concentration and is dependably good. Now that they're available in Kindle format, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series fills both of those requirements admirably (this being the third of 27).

Those not familiar with the books may remember the motion pictures starring the late, great Dean Martin; four of them, I believe, were released from 1966 to 1969. The first book, for the record, was published in 1960 (Death of a Citizen), and Hamilton passed away in 2006. Reading the books now (or re-reading, since I read a couple way back when but have long since forgotten which ones) is interesting for two reasons: First and foremost, they're just plain good "secret agent" novels. The other is the time frame; it's fun to see what's changed over the years since 1960 (when I was a college freshman, BTW) as well as what hasn't. Hearing a woman called "baby" or noting Helm's preference for those who wear skirts- ideally with nylon stockings covering their legs - is reminiscent of the old gumshoe books of the '40s and '50s. The espionage game, on the other hand, is pretty much same old, same old.

And Helm is right in the middle of that game here. After enjoying a few years' respite making a living mostly as a photographer to support a wife and children, his wife Beth became quite unhappy to learn what he really did for a living in all those years before she came on the scene and realized he had a heart behind his shoulder holster. Unable to come to terms with that, she divorced him six months ago; and now, looking for something to bring meaning to his life once again, he's been reactivated. 

So has Beth, in a way; she's remarried, this time to an English gentleman who owns a large ranch somewhere outside of Reno, Nevada. Helm's kids live with their mother, as does her new husband's grown son. But now, she's reaching out - sending a note to Helm's boss, Mac, to say she needs her ex-husband's help. Mac passes along the message with one of his own: As long as Helm (code name: Eric) is going to be in the area, how about checking out a young, inexperienced agent?  As they discuss the assignment, they agree that Helm and his ilk are not considered "enforcers," but rather "removers" - from hence cometh, I smartly perceive, the title of the book.

The young agent, alas, doesn't have much to offer about his assignment except that he was tracking an enemy agent named Martell, who's now working for a local mobster under an assumed name. And wonder of wonders, the mobster just happens to be the man for whom Beth's husband used to work (most likely as - you guessed it - a remover just like Helm).

The plot gets thicker and the action picks up as the book moves along - coming to an end that signals a major change in the direction of Helm's life going forward. That, in fact, is one of the most enjoyable parts of this series - watching how events that happen in one book shape what happens in the future. Just for the record, the books I've read so far can stand alone, but I'm sure I'm getting the biggest bang for my bucks - as would other readers, IMHO - by taking it one step at a time. They're short steps, I hasten to add; I polished this one off in just one day.

The Removers by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, April 2013 Kindle release); 240 pp.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IF I RUN

4 stars out of 5


"...one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line..."

From the start of this one, those lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel's "Keep the Customer Satisfied" ran through my head in this fast-paced, exciting book that I read in a single day (partly because it's only 318 pages long and mostly because it was very hard to put down). 

You see, Casey Cox is a woman on the run; her DNA has been found at the scene of the stabbing murder of her best friend Brent, a journalist. In truth (or truth as she tells it), she really was at the scene - meeting him at his apartment at lunchtime at his request - but what she found was his bloody body. Believing her story wouldn't be convincing to the police, she ran away in hopes of finding a new identify and a new life. She's also trying to escape some haunting memories of her own youth - memories that comprise another reason to be wary of talking to the police.

Enter Dylan Roberts, a former Army cop with three deployments and a nasty case of PTSD who'd love to get a job on the local police force. Turns out he also was a good friend of Brent, and when Dylan attends the memorial service, because of his background he's hired to track down Casey (with approval from the time-challenged local police). As the chase ensues, chapters shift from Casey's perspective to Dylan's; in most instances, I'm not a big fan of that technique - nor of first-person writing - but they really do work well here.

Despite her efforts to stay off the grid, Casey leaves a trail that's almost amazingly easy for Dylan to follow. The closer he gets to finding her, though, the more he begins to realize there's far more to her story than he's being led to believe - bringing into question what happened to Brent, who actually did him in and why. 

Meantime, a second story line comes into play as Casey - who now has a new identity - tries to get her new act together in an Atlanta suburb. A new friend, it seems, has a daughter who went missing a couple of years earlier. In the course of her new job, Casey inadvertently uncovers clues that could mean the daughter is still alive. Risking the loss of her precious anonomity, she sets out to learn the truth. The book comes to a riveting conclusion that brings closure to one of the two story lines (but I won't reveal which).

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book - but with two reservations. The first is that there's a doozy of a cliffhanger ending. This is the first of a two-book series (which I knew ahead of time and, under those circumstances, certainly expected some carryover business). But this goes far beyond that, literally forcing readers to get the next book (If I'm Found) if they want closure. And not knowing that was gonna happen till the end of this one made me very grumpy.

The second is that it's in-your-face clear from the beginning that this book belongs in the category of Christian fiction (which I didn't know at the time I accepted an advance review copy from the publisher based on what sounded like a great story). Mind you, I have nothing against organized religion; in fact, I consider myself to be somewhat of a student of it. Over the years, I've enjoyed, and learned much from, books on the history and beliefs of faiths from Baha'i to Judaism to the Society of Friends to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

What I do not want to read about, however, is some character's "search for the God I used to believe in" or, God forbid, proselytizing. Both are in here from the beginning, though thankfully, not in large doses (with a couple of exceptions). Still, it's more than I want to encounter, and I firmly believe potential readers should be made aware of this ahead of time.

If I Run by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan, February 2016); 318 pp.