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Friday, January 31, 2014


4 stars out of 5

I was made aware of this book, the first in a series featuring former Marine Corps special ops guy turned freelancer and extreme cage fighter John Harding, through an offer to download it for 99 cents. I'm not even sure why I took a closer look, except it was the first in a series, so if I liked it, I'd be able to look forward to more; and, I liked that it had earned an average of 4-1/2 stars from 76 reviewers. The clincher, though, was learning that Harding spent his teenage years in Leavittsburg, Ohio.

Say what? Leavittsburg is a very small community of a couple of thousand residents along the Mahoning River in Trumbull County not many miles from my home - and it's so small that it's unlikely anyone would mention it in a book unless he or she were familiar with it. So I did a little sleuthing of my own; I didn't unearth much except that the author at one time attended the now-closed Western Reserve High School in nearby Warren, Ohio, and thus Leavittsburg would have been almost in his back yard. But that was enough for me to say what the heck? It was less than a buck, and I was intrigued. 

And now that I've finished it, I'm hooked.

Harding, it seems, ran away from his Leavittsburg home and an extremely abusive father at age 14; with a little age adjustment, he got into military service, where he performed spectacularly and learned several languages. Subsequently, he's recruited by a CIA agent to take on special projects that must remain under the government radar - most of which involve utilizing his special skills and killing bad guys. To supplement that income and satisfy his need for violence, he earns money as an extreme cage fighter and takes on odd jobs doing bodyguard and skip trace work for his manager.

Along the way, Harding manages to knock the stuffing out of an extreme fighter backed by the Russian mob, thus putting himself in their crosshairs. At the same time, he's recruited to protect a young Afghani woman he knew as a child when he was doing military service there - now grown, she's come to America to speak out against the atrocities happening back at home. Helping Harding with the latter task is lawyer and love interest Tess Connagher (it's her law firm that was directed to hire Harding to protect the Afghani woman). 

Since there are two more books in the series that I know of - Hard Case - The Lure of Hell and Hard Case - Voyage of the Damned - it's clear from the beginning of this one that Harding will survive. And given his background and occupation, it's also clear there'll be no shortage of knock-down, drag-out fights in this book. In fact, those events are pretty much ongoing - moving from action in the field to action in a cage. People get killed right and left (but, as Harding points out, he doesn't kill people who don't deserve it). There's a little romance, a little humor here and there, and the result is that it's really a good book that held my attention all the way to the end. I will caution, though, that it you don't like reading about blood and guts, this probably isn't your style. As for me, bring on the next one!

Hard Case by Bernard Lee DeLeo (RJ Parker Publishing, November 2013), 288 pp.

Friday, January 17, 2014


5 stars out of 5

I've lost count of the books I've read by the prolific Michael Connelly - from the Harry Bosch series to this series featuring "Lincoln Lawyer" Mickey Haller. Likewise, I don't remember the last time I read one that was anything other than really, really good. To be sure, this one continues that fine tradition.

It helps that I've always had an affinity for the legal profession; many, many years ago, I landed a job as a legal secretary -- the first job I had when I returned to work after taking time out to be a stay-at-home mommy until our younger child started kindergarten. The attorneys I worked for didn't provide the best of physical surroundings (there was no such thing as a file cabinet; instead, cases were kept in manila folders stacked on tables, chairs and floors, sometimes reaching almost to the ceiling, yet any one of the lawyers knew exactly which case was where at any given moment). It was fast-paced, demanding and, given the opportunity, an environment I'd be happy to return to any day of the week should someone ask me to.

Virtually living out of his car and operating by the seat of his pants, Mickey Haller always reminds me of those days. In this book, he's still suffering the ill effects of losing a bid for the district attorney spot and agrees to defend a former client's pimp who's incarcerated after being accused of murdering one of his girls - one who's had previous dealings with Haller as a confidential informant and friend. As he digs in, Haller starts to believe that the pimp is innocent, putting his life and those of his cohorts in danger and pitting him against powers-that-be ranging from a corrupt DEA agent to a powerful cartel drug lord.

Bottom line? Chalk up another winner!

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., December 2013); 401 pp.

Friday, January 10, 2014


4 stars (out of 5)

Just maybe (I hope, I hope), the Patricia Cornwell I used to know and love is back - finally! Frankly, I've grown a bit weary of the trials and travails of Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta of late - she who is put-upon by everyone, long-suffering and over-thinks everything from why her FBI profiler husband Benton Wesley's pinkie finger twitched to the right instead of the left to why her dog Sock refused to do his morning poo in the usual spot.

This one - the 21st in the series - started out in that vein, making me groan out loud, "Please, not again!" But very soon, thankfully, it moved away from the angst to focus on a great plot that held my interest all the way to the end. It begins as Scarpetta is called in to check out a female body that's been wrapped in an unusual cloth and seemingly positioned in an odd way. Turns out she's the plaintiff in a $100 million lawsuit against a big financial management firm that was supposed to begin in a week.

Coincidence? Not likely; but of course, there'd be no story if the motive were that simple. In fact, Scarpetta and her hubby, he who is being ostracized openly by his FBI boss, suspect the murder is connected to a series of others done by a person known as the Capital Murderer. As Scarpetta and her team, including Detective Pete Marino (with whom Scarpetta has a long-time but muddled relationship that Marino apparently wishes were more than professional) get down to the nitty gritty of the investigation, they begin to think people in high places don't want them to get the low-down on the case.

All the regulars get in on the act to one degree or another, including Scarpetta's niece Lucy and her partner Janet (though perhaps to a lesser degree than in some of the more recent novels, which isn't necessarily a bad thing). This is one of Cornwell's best, IMHO, and now - for the first time in a few years - I'm really looking forward to the next installment.

Dust by Patricia Cornwell (Putnam Adult, November 2013); 529 pp.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


4-1/2 Stars (out of 5)

Something not so good happened between publication of this book and its predecessor, The Sixth Man; the new TV series based on Baldacci's series about former Secret Service agents turned private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell was canceled after a single season on TNT. That's a shame, IMHO - I really enjoyed the show that starred Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn in the title roles. But that said (and the good looks of Tenney and Romijn notwithstanding), 'tis better to read than watch. And this, the sixth book in the series, is further proof.

The story begins as the dynamic duo meet a teenage boy named Tyler Wingo, who has learned that his soldier father has been killed in action in Afghanistan. But something seems a bit off, and Tyler wants to hire Maxwell and King to find out what really happened. Michelle, who identifies with the boy, insists on taking the case - especially since the government is less than forthcoming with information, refuses to bring the father's remains home and claims his father is a traitor. Eventually, they learn why Tyler so insistent; it seems he received an email from his father a couple of days after the U.S. government claims he was killed.

But all attempts to ferret out the truth put Maxwell and King in the crosshairs of both the government powers-that-be and other, more ruthless bad guys; if they don't cease and desist, they could pay with their lives. Everything moves along quickly with plenty of action; along the way Maxwell and King are forced to take a closer look at their own relationship, King has to interact with his ex-wife with unexpected consequences and a third "partner" joins the team.

King and Maxwell by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, November 2013); 425 pp.