Search This Blog

Thursday, August 17, 2017

USE OF FORCE

5 stars out of 5


Every time the author churns out a new Scot Harvath thriller, I have second thoughts about reading it. That's because settings in hot, dirty, far-off countries where war and strife are facts of daily life really don't have much appeal to me. Then too, I know I'll be subjected to a dose or two - sometimes hefty - of the author's opinions about what the United States ought to be doing about it (with which sometimes I agree but more often don't).

But every single time, all that fades into the background once I start reading - and I've been reading for quite some time (according to Amazon, this is the 17th book featuring Harvath, now a covert counter-terrorism operative who does a lot of work for a private company and its aging owner and Harvath's mentor, Reed Carleton). As this one starts, Harvath has left the love of his life in Boston and is chasing a suspected suicide bomber - which turns out to be three - at the Burning Man Festival.

It is also learned that a man thought to be up to his Bunsen burners in  weapons of mass destruction was on a boat that went down in the Mediterranean Sea. Too bad, so sad, on the surface - but his death raises the question of what he was doing there, where he was headed and what he was planning after he arrived. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wants answers to those questions, but they don't have the reach (i.e., permission to run clandestine operations) to get the them. For that, they turn to Harvath; whether or not he's successful - and there's every reason to believe he will be - there won't be any blowback on the CIA.

As if that weren't enough, it seems someone once close to Carleton may now be his worst enemy - out to get the old man along with any or all of his team members. The ensuing pages are stacked with plenty of intrigue, torture, murder and razor-close calls, with all the story lines coming together for a satisfying ending (plus one that's sure to carry over to the next book in the series). For sure I'll be in line to get it!

Use of Force by Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, June 2017); 369 pp.

Friday, August 11, 2017

UNRAVELING OLIVER

5 stars out of 5

Told from the perspectives of several key characters, the chapters in this debut novel weave together a portrait of a young man who seems exceptionally likable on the surface. Readers, though, know otherwise right from the start; successful book author Oliver Ryan (who writes under the pseudonym of Vincent Dax) readily admits punching his wife, Alice, into unconsciousness and a coma from which it's likely she'll never recover.

Since my husband comes from Irish stock (and, in fact, his surname is Ryan, the same as the central character), I was more than a little excited to receive a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. When I opened it on my Kindle, however, my first reaction was far less enthusiastic. For the past couple of years, you see, I've often spoken of growing weary of books in which the chapters shift points of view, each one building on background that leads to the grand finale when everything comes together. That said, I've also maintained that this technique, while it may be over-used, is extremely effective when it's done well. And it's done very well here.

Set in Ireland (where reportedly it was a bestseller, I assume when it was initially released in 2014), the book begins with Oliver's astonishment that he actually punched the daylights out of his wife - even though it's pretty clear that he's treated her like dirt from the git-go. From there, his earlier life is described by other characters, beginning with Barney, the guy Alice dumped after she met Oliver and began illustrating his books. There's Michael, whose sister Laura was at one time a serious contender for the role of Oliver's wife, plus a couple of others who reminisce about Oliver's past and, of course, Oliver himself. Details of his life are unraveled, as it were - coming together again to show how,  why and by whom Oliver's dark side was nourished (clearly, the devil is in the details, none of which I can reveal here without spoiling things for other readers).

At any point along the way, did I feel sympathy for Oliver? Not once. Were there times the story seemed a titch unbelievable? Perhaps - but this is a novel, after all, so a little bit of crossing over that line is perfectly acceptable. More to the point, was I disappointed when I reached the end and there were no more pages to read? Absolutely! Put another way, this book is a gem - highly recommended.

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent (Gallery/Scout Press, August 2017); 272 pp.

Monday, August 7, 2017

HIDE AND SEEK

3 stars out of 5


This book would, I truly believe, make an excellent motion picture - one that would keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. As a book? Sorry, but it just didn't do it for me. 

It's not the plot, which is solid even though it's not terribly original. A child is kidnapped, his parents (one of whom has a deep dark secret) are distraught, police are not doing what parents think they should, parents set out on their own to find their child against all sensible advice and chaos ensues. Rather, my difficulties come from the writing; transition that is sadly lacking (or worse, nonexistent) and way too many unclear antecedents and misplaced modifiers. Consider, for instance, this gem:

"...woman chatting to a doctor in a pink smock."

Well, as it turns out, the doctor was a guy; so no, I rather think he wasn't the one wearing pink. 

The story begins as Lana Cross thwarts the would-be kidnapper of her 4-year-old son Cooper. Before he gets away, the mystery man - dubbed "Mr. Whisper" - has the last word: "Tomorrow."

Scared out of their wits, Lana and her husband Todd pick up Cooper and leave the home they love for a small apartment in the city. For months, the kidnapper's tomorrow never comes; but convinced that someday it will, Lana determines that she, and only she, must find Mr. Whisper before he makes good on his promise to return (why, exactly, she thinks that way remains a mystery to me). She taps into a crime-scene-finder iPhone app and does some mostly futile digging around, but that all but stops when she and Todd learn they've won a free two-week vacation to an adventure park. 

That's great, they say - we need to get away (my reaction would have been more like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of scam is this?" but then it's different strokes for different folks). And surprise, surprise - once they get to the park, the worst happens: Todd, who leaves Lana to take their son on a ride, is knocked unconscious and Cooper vanishes.

Getting a call to meet up from who she assumes is the kidnapper, Lana rushes off without telling anyone, even passing on heading to the hospital to visit her seriously injured husband. But wait, there's more: Apparently, Todd isn't as bad off as the doctors think; he, too, disappears from right under their noses. From that point on, the action really begins to heat up as Lana goes her way and Todd goes his - mostly for totally different reasons (remember that deep, dark secret)?

From that point on, it's impossible to explain what happens without giving away too much. I will emphasize, though, that the last half of the book was noticeably better and for the most part held my attention quite well. For that, I'm happy; when I'm given the opportunity to read an advance copy of a in exchange for an honest review (as with this one), I make it a rule to not give up till I at least pass that point. In this instance, that worked out for the best even though overall this book really isn't my cup of tea.

Hide and Seek by Richard Parker (Bookouture, August 2017); 393 pp.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MURDER GAMES

5 stars out of 5


Prolific author James Patterson and co-author Howard Roughan really hit a home run with this one: Intriguing story, interesting characters and, IMHO, an exceptionally satisfying ending. So much did I enjoy the characters, in fact, that I'd love to see psychology professor Dr. Dylan Reinhart and NYPD Detective Elizabeth Needham turned into a series (one that includes, I emphasize, Reinhart's delightful partner Tracy).

The book reeled me in right from the start (well, if I don't count the opening remarks by a serial killer dubbed "The Dealer") with the introduction of 34-year-old Reinhart, who teaches a course on abnormal behavior and is the author of a book on what he calls "persuasion theory." Psychology is my own undergraduate degree, and just about any time I find a mystery/thriller that focuses on that subject, I'm hooked. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes not, but in this case, I got to the end with a big smile on my face.

Truth be told, Reinhart has a bit of an obnoxious streak, but he clearly knows his stuff (and his sometimes off-putting personality is nicely tempered by the aforementioned Tracy). The plot begins as Needham interrupts one of Reinhart's classes, making the attention-getting pronouncement that someone apparently wants to kill the professor. Turns out that's her way of asking for help with a murder case in which the killer leaves a playing card. Reinhart is skeptical, but when a second murder takes place and another playing card is left at the scene, he realizes - as does she - that a serial killer is on the loose.

Reinhart and Needham develop something of a rapport, albeit grudgingly at first. Their investigative efforts are  interspersed with bits of humor as they come to respect one another and follow clues that extend to a pesky journalist and even the local mayor, who's in desperation mode while vying for reelection. But is the deck stacked so far against them that the killer will end up with the winning hand? 

Inquiring minds want to know - at least mine sure did. Now I do, and I'm sorry to close the book on these characters. Bring them back, please?

Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Little, Brown and Co., June 2017); 400 pp.

Monday, July 31, 2017

JACK OF HEARTS

4 stars out of 5

This is the first book I've read in this series, but when I had the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, I checked out the description. That, and learning that all the books can be read as stand-alones in any order, convinced me to give it a go.

And by golly, I enjoyed it. It's got a solid plot with enough action to keep things interesting, although I'd describe it as much closer to a cozy mystery than a "thriller." There's the requisite cozy romance - this time between the hero, detective Jack Stratton, and the woman he wants to marry, investigator Alice - but I must say for two people who supposedly are in love, I sensed no real romantic vibe between the two of them. There's also a group of elderly ladies who can't keep their noses out of police business despite being told repeatedly that they'd just gum up the investigation (also a cozy requirement in some form or other). And inexplicably, Alice - supposedly a professional investigator herself - goes along with the hijinks they concoct. There's zero sex, no graphic violence even though murders happen and even the barest of hints of religion. All that said, the whole thing comes together in a fun, fast-paced adventure that made me look forward to reading the next one.

The story begins as Jack is taking Alice to Florida to meet his parents for the first time. They get stuck bringing Lady, his oversize King Shepherd, along for the ride (stuck in the cargo hold, where she's none too happy). Jack is a bit nervous, although mostly because when he popped the question to Alice recently, she didn't give him an enthusiastic response. Not surprisingly, Jack's parents welcome Alice with open arms - but notably, also with separate sleeping quarters. And immediately, they are taken to Lady as well (bless their hearts -I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be that welcoming to a brute the size of Lady in my house, no matter how sweet she is).

Soon, Jack and Alice learn of a series of petty thefts carried out by someone known in the retirement community as the "Orange Blossom Cove Bandit" and meet a group of ladies who belong to a book club who are determined to catch the perp. Meantime, another story line takes shape as Curtis Dixon, under the watchful eye of his evil elderly aunt, commits robberies that culminate in murder in the same community. Surely, I thought to myself, murder would be the first topic of discussion for Jack's parents and the other elderly folks who live here rather than trinkets like gone-missing solar-powered crowing roosters - but then that's just me; pink flamingos are the only non-living thing allowed to set foot in my yard, and who'd even consider stealing them? In the midst of all this isn't enough, unbeknownst to Alice, Jack has been trying to track down information on her family; her parents, it seems, were killed in an automobile crash many years ago that she alone survived. 

So insistent are the book club ladies that Jack, a former policeman, find the garden thief that he just can't say no to their demands for help - especially since one of them is his mother, for goodness sake. He's got a week before he and Alice must return to their normal lives; can they solve the case in time? And will the robbery/murder incidents somehow tie into on their efforts, perhaps putting lives of people they love on the line? And maybe most important, is there anything Jack can do to convince Alice to say yes?

Like a jar of Prego spaghetti sauce, it's all in there - but you'll just have to open the jar and find it for yourself. 

Jack of Hearts by Christopher Greyson (Greyson Media LLC, August 2017); 260 pp.

Friday, July 28, 2017

GAME OF GHOSTS

5 stars out of 5

By and large, paranormal, supernatural "stuff" just isn't my thing (with nods to the late Rod Serling's Twilight Zone and nobody-does-it-better Stephen King). But there's just something about P.I. Charlie Parker - the lead character here who actually died three times and now has a special connection to (or at least understanding of) otherworldly beings - that I just can't resist. And like the previous installments I've read, this one certainly didn't disappoint.

The appearance of characters from past books like Parker's faithful sidekicks Angel and Louis, his estranged wife Rachel and their daughter Samantha (the latter of whom shares her father's paranormal insights plus has a few notable ones of her own) makes this one extra-special for faithful readers, but there's more than enough background provided for newbies to follow along quite nicely. That said, I'm glad I read a few from the past, but that's just because they're all so doggoned enjoyable.

This one begins in Portland, Maine, on Feb. 1 and the onslaught of winter. Parker, still battered and torn from his many previous injuries, gets called in by the FBI's Edgar Ross, for whom Parker somewhat reluctantly works off and on. For an unexplained reason, Ross wants to find a missing private detective named Jaycob Eklund, who works with the FBI in a fashion similar to Parker. Eklund, it seems, has been sniffing around a series of homicides and disappearances, all of which took place amid hauntings of some kind. 

The trail leads Parker in and out of a shadowy world that includes a secret group known as The Brethren and their "enforcer," a criminal empire led by a woman called Mother and poignant exchanges between Parker's close friends Angel and Louis. In the midst of all this, Parker must deal with Rachel's insistence on keeping their young daughter safe at all costs - even if that means away from her loving father whose life is mostly spent in a danger zone not known by "regular" human beings. The ending is satisfying and complete, although a few threads are left that no doubt will be woven into the next book. Can't wait!

A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, July 2017); 465 pp.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

THE LATE SHOW

5 stars out of 5

New character and series? Base hit. By a favorite author? Double play. Getting a copy from the publisher to read in exchange for an honest review? Bases loaded.

The new character is Renee Ballard, a relatively young and feisty detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. The author is Michael Connelly, well known and much loved by me for his Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller) series. And my honest opinion? A home run!

Also in all honesty, though, neither Harry nor Mickey need worry; this mama still loves them best. But when someone new comes along that's worthy of note, there's plenty of room left on my virtual bookshelves. And that means the next time Renee Ballard makes an appearance, I'll be there to greet her.

A native of Hawaii with a journalism degree from the University of Hawaii, Ballard spends part of her free time riding the California surf with her faithful dog Lola. She's also fighting a few demons from the past, including the untimely death of her beloved father in a water-related accident and the fact that her long-time day shift partner failed to support her in her sexual harassment claim against her supervisor. As a result of that unsuccessful complaint, she's been relegated to the night shift - a.k.a. the Late Show. Now, she and her new partner, John Jenkins, are charged with investigating crimes that happen in the wee hours, but they must turn all their findings over to an appropriate "desk" rather than follow up on their own. 

It's not always easy to let go of cases that come her way, but she manages - until, that is, she doesn't. On a single night, she lands in the middle of two: The first is the brutal beating of a prostitute who ends up close to death in an induced coma at the hospital. The second involves the murder of several patrons and a female employee at a local nightclub. She pleads her case for continuance on both cases, winning the right to follow up on the prostitute's. On the murders, though, everyone from the top down, including her partner, insists that she back off - but she's not having any of it. Bringing her extensive investigative skills and instincts to bear, she deals the beating incident during work hours. Then, using off hours and spare time, she delves into the nightclub murders with equal gusto - and lands smack dab in the middle of a close-to-home "hit" and a complex case that not only threatens her own future, but that of the entire department.

Now, of course, I'm looking forward to Ballard's next assignment. Bring her on!

The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., July 2017); 544 pp.