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Sunday, May 31, 2015


4 stars out of 5

When it comes to credit, it must be given where it's due: this time, it goes to our multi-talented daughter-in-law, Lilla, for finding this series. Truth is, she didn't find it for me - but rather for my husband Jack. When it comes to books, he and I have similar tastes, but he's much harder to please. Turns out he loved this one (and as I write this, I believe he's in the middle of the eighth book in the series) - and he's been so enthusiastic about every single one that I simply had to see for myself what his fuss was all about.

This book, the winner of Edgar and Shamus awards for Best First Novel, features former Detroit police officer Alex McKnight - is the first of what is now, I believe, 10 books. On the job, McKnight was shot and nearly died (his partner was killed) ; to this day, he's still got a bullet lodged next to his heart as an unwelcome reminder. That alone probably would entice me to try the book, but the setting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula sealed the deal. We've done some traveling there, and it is to me one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

Not wanting to stay in Detroit, McKnight accepts a disability pension and heads for the tiny town of Paradise, Mich., to live in a cabin in the woods. A local attorney suggests that he get a private investigator license, and in part to earn extra money and in part to put his former skills back in play, he agrees - albeit grudgingly. 

But then, a gruesome murder happens, and McKnight ends up on the case on behalf of a friend (he's working for that attorney, who happens to be the attorney for the friend and his wealthy family). But gruesome isn't the only thing nasty about the murder; clues left at the scene appear to be tied to the man who shot McKnight and his partner - a man who supposedly has been in prison ever since.

Trying to solve that murder - and another - all the while keeping himself and his friend from suffering a similar fate takes McKnight all over the scenic Upper Peninsula. Sprinkled everywhere are places at which my husband and I spent quality time: Whitefish Point, with its impressive light station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum? Check.  Check. Sault Ste. Marie, watching the gigantic freighters pass through the Soo Locks? Check. Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Houghton Lake? Check. And who could ever forget driving across the awesome Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Wolverine State's Upper and Lower peninsulas? Certainly not me!

From the beginning, McKnight butts heads with two important characters. First is the attorney's former private investigator, who blames McKnight for taking his job. Second is the local police chief, who takes an instant dislike to McKnight to the point of crossing the line of unprofessional behavior (one aspect I didn't much care for, in fact - there doesn't seem to be any valid reason for that much anger, especially given that they've had no previous run-ins). 

Despite the murders and mayhem, the book is written in a relatively low-key fashion; as I swiped the pages of my Kindle Fire, I couldn't help thinking of C.J. Box's Wisconsin game warden Joe Pickett (a favorite character from another popular series). There's a modicum of excitement and tension, although I never really feared for McKnight's life (but really - what author would kill off the main character in a series in the first book)? The ending was seemed a little rushed and a bit of a stretch - it was hard for me to believe that the person who masterminded the whole thing had the knowledge to come up with that cunning a plan.

Nonetheless, I read every paragraph with gusto, and now I'm delighted to have another series I can turn to when I'm in between works from my favorite authors. But wait - this one has all the earmarks of a favorite series as well. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy - one down, nine to go!

A Cold Day in Paradise (Minotaur Books, February 2000); 301 pp.


3 stars out of 5

If a mystery/thriller has a medical or legal focus, it'll get my attention. If it's part of a series, even better; I love to have something on the back burner to turn to when my supply of favorite-author books starts to dwindle. I had high hopes for this book about the trials and tribulations of Dr. Cathy Sewell, who returns to her home town to set up her own practice. It's the first of three books in the "Prescription for Trouble" series by the author, a retired physician.

What I didn't realize is that the book might be more accurately listed under Christian fiction. Certainly I should have known; it's published by Abington Press, an imprint of The United Methodist Publishing House. But even though that's not my style (not even close, in fact), I must say I wasn't overwhelmed with the "I hate God for allowing my parents to die" followed by a lecture on why that's not true kind of thing. Only in a couple of places did talk of converting to true believer status become intrusive, and I was able to speed-read my way through those and get on with the story.

Cathy, it seems, returned home after ending a bad relationship - still grieving at the untimely loss of her parents in an accident just as she finished medical school. But sometimes it just doesn't pay to go home again; early on, it appears someone wants her to turn tail and get outta Dodge. Or maybe it's several someones; she has trouble getting a loan to set up her practice, trouble getting privileges at the local hospital, trouble driving down the road without being attacked by a mysterious black SUV and trouble when patients she treats end up in worse condition than when they came to see her. Given all that plus her past life experiences, she's lost the ability to trust - not even a local (and hunky) lawyer who promises to take care of her - and certainly not her own judgment.

All things considered, it really wasn't a bad story. I'll emphasize that the religious slant isn't the reason for my mid-point rating, nor is the technical quality of writing. In fact, it was nice to read a book that doesn't have grammar, punctuation and spelling errors splattered throughout every other chapter. Rather, it's because the overall plot is a little simplistic, and some of the details - which I can't mention without issuing a spoiler alert - just didn't have real-life plausibility. What happens to Cathy borders on overkill, so to speak; you think you're having a bad day? After reading only a few chapters that detail what she's going through, your life will seem like a walk in the park. 

Still, at just 288 pages, it's a quick, easy read - ideal for my "fill-in" series requirement. And while it's far from the best book I ever read, it was good enough that I'm not calling in the crash cart for this series; in fact, I'm likely to try the next two, Medical Error and Diagnosis Death. I'll keep you posted!

Code Blue by Richard L. Mabry, M.D. (Abingdon Press, April 2010); 288 pp.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Before I reached the midpoint of this book, which was offered to me free for reviewing, I concluded that anyone who read and enjoyed J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy (as I did), most likely will enjoy this one as well. Both focus on in-depth development of each and every character, warts and all, and, ultimately, showing how they're all connected. As in that book, all the characters in this one have "issues" - some more than others. Some are totally unlikable and others are tolerable, but there wasn't a single one I didn't want to smack upside the head after "meeting" him (or her) a couple of times.

The main character, for instance, is a 45-year-old poetry-writing recluse who has spent her last 25 years cleaning house and helping with an elderly man in New Mexico. She (Kathryn Winesky, a.k.a. Zinc), lives in a casita on the old man's property. She's perfectly content with the status quo, not caring about earning more money or trying new things. As for making her own decisions? Fuhgettaboutit. 

The old man, named Thomas Quickwater, loves to buy works of art; over the years as he acquires new paintings, he gives the ones he's replacing to Zinc. Quickwater has a daughter, Marge, who is downright nasty and has taken over his financial affairs - and she's made it clear to Zinc that the paintings are loans, not gifts. When the old man, who's almost 94, falls and dies (near the beginning of the story), Marge tells Zinc she wants all the paintings returned to the estate and that Zinc must leave her beloved casita. Marge expects to collect 44 - the number she has recorded as being on loan - but it turns out there's a 45th. Zinc discovers the error and - after considerable arguing back and forth with her conscience - chooses one to hide away for herself (thus, I assume, providing the book's title).

Zinc ends up staying temporarily with her brother, Frankie, who lives not far away and is an auto mechanic; her presence there is over his objections, since they don't get along well (like me, he finds it hard to understand her lackadaisical attitude toward her own life and difficulty making decisions). To that end, she waffles between feeling guilty for "stealing" the extra painting and the belief that it held special meaning for her former employer and he would have wanted her to own it. In the end, guilt wins out, and she decides to send Marge an email apologizing for her behavior and offering to return the painting.

As her [dumb] luck would have it, though, the email is sent to a man who has a similar name - Mark Quickwater, also a poet - who lives in Antigua. The two strike up an online relationship (more dumb luck, as Zinc somehow never realizes the error of the email she thought she'd sent to Marge), Zinc accepts his invitation to meet in person and hops on a plane despite just having landed a new job at the local Chamber of Commerce. They spend an idyllic week there, and Zinc returns home in love and with a suntan deeper than she's ever had before (making me wish I knew her secret; I don't sunburn easily, but if I ever spent outdoor time anywhere in the southern hemisphere, I'd be a crispy critter within an hour or two).

Anything more said about Zinc's adventures will spoil things, but given the complexities, peccadilloes and backgrounds of all the characters here, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that there's really no happy ending - in fact, there's not much of an ending at all (as we all know, life goes on with or without our permission). All in all, the book is very well written, and the detail and often seemingly pointless conversations really do happen for a good reason - tying everything and everyone together. 

Well, almost; there's a bit of a twist at the end that suggests there may be a follow-up novel in the works. Stay tuned!

The Accidental Art Thief by Joan Schweighardt (Twilight Times Books, May 2015); 232 pages.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


4 stars out of 5

I doubt I'm the first to say that I'll never enjoy the Spenser books as written by Ace Atkins nearly as much as those by the late, great Robert B. Parker. Because of that alone, it's unlikely that any of the post-Parker books will earn 5 stars from me. But doggone it, I enjoyed this one - and I remain happy that Mr. Atkins got the nod to continue the series. 

But regrets? I've got a few, starting with a more subdued Susan - private investigator Spenser's main (make that only) - squeeze. And then there's the formidable sidekick Hawk, who seems to have lost a lot of the witty, irreverent banter of years past - with a few notable exceptions like this one:

Hawk to Spenser as they drive past an IHOP: "You eat here?"

Spenser: "God, no."

Hawk: "Good, 'cause there's a limit to the sh** I'll do for you."

Conversation aside, Hawk also is a major presence (or should be), and it's very disappointing to me that he doesn't make an appearance until halfway through this book - give or take a chapter or two. 

Another complaint is that this one - which focuses on the mistreatment of young boys who are sentenced to a private "tough love" island prison mostly on the whim (and personal financial enrichment) of a couple of corrupt judges - borders on the preachy in spots. I haven't decided which kind of prison system is better - that operated by the government or privately owned - I'm convinced only that neither works very well. But I got the distinct feeling that the author has made up his mind and is intent on converting the rest of us. I read the Spenser books for enjoyment, so save the lectures for a non-fiction effort, if you please.

The book begins as the Boston-based Spenser is hired by the mother of a 17-year-old who was sent to the Boston Harbor prison because he set up a Twitter account on which he ridiculed his high-school vice-principal. The corrupt judge, known for his zero tolerance policy on youthful miscreants, sentences the kid to the island prison. His mother understandably is upset, and when mama ain't happy, nobody's happy; even the hard-nosed Spenser caves when she insists he look into the case even though it's on a pro bono basis.

Of course, proving that a respected local judge (and a higher-up) are acting illegally isn't easy - especially true when the dots connect with heavy-duty mobsters who aren't exactly Spenser's close and personal friends. Collecting the evidence takes Spenser and Hawk from frigid Boston to sunny Florida and back, with their lives - and perhaps those of the young prisoners - in the balance every mile of the way. In the end, it may not be the perfect Parker, but it's pretty sweet nonetheless.

Robert B. Parker's Kickback by Ace Atkins (G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2015); 304 pp.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

Welcome to the 33rd book featuring filthy rich, impossibly well-connected female magnet Stone Barrington (or as I've taken to calling him, Stone Yawnington). Once again, the dialogue and action are ho-hum, but then that's the usual pattern. Maybe I've simply grown accustomed to it, but I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed this one more than the last two - or three or four, almost all of which failed to rate higher than three stars.

It gets off to same old, same old, with prominent attorney Barrington taking ownership of a fancy new private jet and bedding at least two beautiful women all in the first couple of chapters (I'll give him points, however, for sticking with older, more experienced women for the most part instead of the youngest, blondest, beauty-pageant wannabes). One of those women is a pilot, who provides the requisite training for Barrington before he can fly his new machine solo.

This, in turn, ushers in the first storyline: she's moved to New York, Barrington's home base, in large part to get away from a menacing former boyfriend who has a criminal background and apparently is intent on keeping her in his possession. In fact, wherever she lands, he turns up; now, he's got Barrington in his sights as well. 

At the same time, a trio of potential threats to international security have turned up to wreak as-yet-unknown havoc, posing problems for Barrington's long-time friend and now U.S. President Kate Lee (who recently was elected to replace her husband, Will, in the Oval Office). In one totally implausible early-on happening, another of the author's well-known characters, Holly Barker, now serves the President as a top adviser - and hires a young assistant almost literally from off the street on a gut feeling. Immediately, the young woman gets top security clearance world-wide and is given a major role in solving the security issue. Come on, now - I know the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C., have more than a few problems these days, but I refuse to believe it's that easy to land a job that puts you within whispering distance of the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Chapters switch from one storyline to the other, with Barrington playing a role in each - if only by listening to someone on the phone during dinner or while in bed with one of those women and repeating what he was told on the phone to the person he's with after he hangs up (who in turn repeats it to someone else - it's at those times that the Yawnington angle rears its boring head, and unfortunately, they happen way too often throughout the book). Still, everything gets resolved satisfactorily and in relatively good fun - well, make that almost everything; as usual, there's at least one dangling issue that no doubt will carry over to the next Barrington book.

And yawns notwithstanding, no doubt I'll be reading that one as well - if only to see what wine goes best with sauteed foi gras.

Hot Pursuit by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2015); 352 pp.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

This is Deaver's fourth novel featuring Kathryn Dance, a California Bureau of Investigation agent and kinesics expert, but only the second I've read (with the exception of her initial appearance as a consultant in Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs novel Cold Moon). I wish Dance were a more appealing character, but so far, I just haven't been able to warm up to her all that much.

I haven't figured out why. Although I didn't follow that career path, I do have a bachelor's degree in psychology, so specialties like kinesics, neuro-linguistic programming and such are not only familiar to me, but subjects of substantial interest. But maybe the devil is in the details; explanations of how she interprets behavior somehow sound simplistic at best, to-wit:

"Dance knew in her heart...that there was no way there would be any prints from the man who'd intentionally blocked the club doors. She knew instinctively he would be meticulous." Well duh - I knew that instinctively myself, and I'm not a trained behavioralist. Besides that, even though the situation she describes did involve a super-large truck, why would Dance, of all people, assume the perpetrator is a man? 

Also at issue, I think, is that too many investigations are going on at once. The first happens at a small concert arena named (are you ready for this??) Solitude Creek, where concert-goers become aware of a fire and the ensuing panic (and the blocking of exit doors) results in death. Subplots involve racial graffiti and identifying the culprits and finding who's behind a drug-running pipeline. Oh, and sandwiched in between are issues involving a couple of Dance's romantic interests. I would have been happy with just one (or maybe two) of these storylines; this many smacks of overkill, so to speak, and a mad rush to bring all of them to conclusion that to me, at least, seemed contrived. That said, I'll give Deaver points for not turning any of them into one of those cliffhangers that other popular authors seem to think are necessary to guarantee sales of their the next books.

In the end, though, Deaver remains a favorite author, and yes, I'll read his next Kathryn Dance novel (and anything else he writes, for that matter). Who knows? Maybe one of these days, the character will grow on me.

Solitude Creek by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing, May 2015); 464 pp.

Monday, May 18, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

Right off the bat, I'll agree with the legions of reviewers who say they hate cliffhanger endings. I don't like the ploy when it's used in season finales of TV series, and I don't like it even more in books, for two reasons: First, it's likely to be at least a year - sometimes two or three - before the next one is published. At that point, I have trouble remembering who the main characters are, much less what happened at the end of the previous book. Second, unlike books, people normally don't have to ante up more cash when a TV series begins a new season. I expect every book I read to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Period.

Another thing that bothered me a bit in this one is that if you're going to have four main characters (the members of the so-called Women's Murder Club and the premise for the series), each of the members should get a decent chance to shine. No, not necessarily equally - the main focus is on Lindsay Boxer of the San Francisco Police Department - but here, 'Frisco Medical Examiner Claire is next to nonexistent. The others, for the record, are Yuki, an attorney in the District Attorney's office, and Cindy, a hot-shot crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle - all of whom get significant roles.

As the story unfolds, Yuki - weary of her role as a prosecuting attorney - suddenly bails in favor of the Defense League, going over to the "dark side" to assist the downtrodden. Her first case, in fact, is a lawsuit against the city at which she was employed because a young mentally challenged man was murdered while in jail. He was wrongly incarcerated, Yuki argues, because his confession was coerced by SFPD officers. 

Meanwhile, Lindsay's hubby Joe, a former police officer, has lost his consulting job and taken on the role of house-husband and stay-at-home dad. At Lindsay's request, he begins to investigate the possibility that murders that in recent years have happened on Cindy's birthday - at a time the Women's Murder Club gets together for lunch, in fact - are somehow connected (perhaps even done by same person). Lindsay can't do the sleuthing herself because she's busy trying to catch a gang of bad guys who wear pig masks and SFPD windbreakers, committing theft and murder willy nilly throughout the city. Are they impersonating cops, or could a handful of bad apples be lurking in the department?

Needless to say, there's a lot going on, and on the plus side, two of the three stories do see resolution (of course, I won't reveal which one doesn't - the one that creates the cliffhanger I dislike so much). There's plenty of action, though, and as is customary in Patterson's books, the very short chapters make it easy to stop and start at a beginning or an ending (didn't I tell you that's important to me)?

Also of interest to me - but probably no one else who will read this review - is the brief mention of character Dr. Germaniuk to the story. Those of us who live in Trumbull County, Ohio, know the real Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, the county's long-time medical examiner and coroner. In fact, he's served as a consultant to Patterson for years - in most books, you'll find his name in the acknowledgements section. 

14th Deadly Sin by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown and Co., May 2015); 384 pp.

Friday, May 15, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Okay, so why in the world is a grandmother of four reading a book written for elementary school kids? First of all, I'm a huge proponent of anything that kick-starts youngsters on what I hope is a lifetime course of reading. I have immense admiration for best-selling authors who write for that market (the Maximum Ride and Virals series by James Patterson and Kathy Reichs, respectively, for instance). I've read at least one book in both of those series and highly recommend them, BTW.

Now comes Spencer Quinn, author of a favorite series of mine for grown-ups: the Chet and Bernie mysteries that follow the adventures of private investigator Bernie and his police K-9 school flunk-out, the lovable Chet. Told from the dog's perspective, they never fail to bring a few chuckles along with a good story. Noted author Stephen King probably put it when writing about this novel, "Spencer Quinn speaks two languages - suspense and dog - fluently."

When I found it, then, giving it a go was a no-brainer. The concept is virtually identical to the adult series, except Bernie has been replaced by an 11-year-old girl - Birdie - who gets a pooch with an uncertain background as a birthday present and names him Bowser (rather an unoriginal name for a dog, but she's 11, after all, and it makes for an alliterative title). Like Chet, Bowser maintains an amusing banter as he narrates what's going on in the world as he sees (and smells) it.

The mystery begins when Birdie's grandmother's prized stuffed marlin, Black Jack, turns up missing - apparently stolen. Birdie lives with her mother, who works during the day, next door to her grandmother, who owns a fishing and boat tour store on the Louisiana bayou - where the marlin was hanging on a wall. But it's not just any old stuffed fish; no, this one has a story behind it (well, behind an eye, to be more precise). That's where, it's been rumored for decades, a treasure map had been concealed many years ago.

The primary suspect, at least from Birdie's perspective, is the owner of a rival store in the same little community. But when Birdie tries to get information about the treasure from her mother and grandmother, she gets stonewalled and decides to take the investigation into her own hands. She's got Bowser now, you see, so what could possibly go wrong?

All in all, this is a real charmer that, IMHO, will appeal to the intended age group as well as light-hearted readers like me (it's a big plus that, like Patterson and Reichs, Quinn never talks down to the younger audience; no "see the pretty choo-choo" here, thank you very much). Since I can find no evidence to the contrary, I'm assuming this is the series debut, and I certainly hope there will be more.

A further note: Besides the "talking" dog angle, I discovered another reason this book is so well done; this ain't Spencer Quinn's first grade-school rodeo. As Peter Abrahams, he's penned at least three books in the award-winning Echo Falls series for middle-school students which - be still my feminist heart - also features a strong female lead. I just may have to take a look at those as well (sigh)!

Woof by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic Press, April 2015); 304 pp.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Hard to believe this is the 25th book in the "Prey" series - most of which I've read - and while I won't call it the best of the bunch, it's well worth reading as usual. Also as usual, author Sandford manages to get in a guest appearance by one of his other cool characters, Virgil Flowers.

The story begins when Letty, the daughter adopted by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Lucas Davenport and his surgeon wife, Weather, is home from college. Letty gets a call from a panhandling woman she befriended in San Francisco, who's begging for help in the belief that someone is killing off her traveling friends. Letty insists on helping the girl, and while Lucas suspects the whole thing is just a panhandling ploy, he agrees to accompany Letty. 

As it turns out, Letty's newfound friend is on to some nastiness that could rival the Charles Manson gang (led by a guy who goes by the handle of Pilate). Following the gang members, who leave behind a string of grisly murders, takes Lucas out of his usual Gopher State to others including Wisconsin and Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula. In the process, he asks for and gets help from his buddy Virgil (a.k.a. "that f***ing Flowers") - always a treat for me because, well, I like him better than Lucas. In the process of catching the bad guys and gals, Lucas manages to get under the skin of his higher-ups (in part because he pulled Virgil off another job without permission). Lucas also is starting to see unwelcome changes in how he and his work are valued, hinting at changes that may come in future books.

For the most part, the thrill of the chase remained exciting throughout; but I'll also say that Letty - more than a bit of an errant child - isn't my favorite character by a long shot. I certainly don't want anything bad to happen to her, but if it did, I honestly wouldn't miss her much. I do like Lucas's wife Weather, but she gets exceptionally short shrift here. I also feared in the beginning that Sandford may be slipping toward the banality of Stuart Woods's Stone Barrington series when it comes to dialogue that seems to be more blather than substance. Then again, there are plenty of hopeful (and amusing) indications that this won't happen, such as this conversation with a Wisconson cop:

Lucas: "You divorced yet?"

Cop: "Let's not go there...I think she's gonna get the season tickets for the Packers."

Oh yeah - Sandford's still got it.

Gathering Prey by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2015); 416 pp.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the second book in the series featuring Joe Dillard, who started as a criminal defense attorney in the first, An Innocent Client. This time out, he's switched to the dark side; burned out by his experiences defending guilty clients, Joe has accepted a job in the prosecutor's office. He'll make less money, but the opportunity to make amends for getting all those baddies off, he believes, will make up the difference.

He learns early on, though, that the office is no bed of roses; he's forced to work with another attorney who's at best a bumbling idiot, but the guy is related to the boss's wife and therefore enjoys free rein. At first, Joe is assigned to a rape case that is similarly complicated; the accusation is against an "upstanding" businessman who's a pillar of the local rural Tennessee community. While that's evolving, a family of four is brutally murdered. In short order, a retired high school principal and his wife meet a similar fate, and the evidence (and a witness) point to two young men and a young woman, all of whom are Satan-worshippers.

The young men are captured, and it's up to Joe to make sure they get their due (for one, that's execution, but not for the other one, who's a juvenile and thus ineligible for the death penalty under Tennessee law). There's insufficient evidence, though, to reel in Natasha, the young woman believed to be at the very least the instigator of the grisly murders if not the killer herself. She remains on the outside  looking in, making everyone involved worried that before long, she'll stop looking and start acting. And with Satan as her guide, life for everyone involved in the case soon could become a living hell.

Events move along at a rapid pace, prompting me to carve out extra time to get it finished. If I have a complaint, it's that the ending seems a little too contrived (and admittedly, the Twilight Zone aspect turned me off a bit). The epilogue wrapped up all the loose ends in a neat and tidy fashion - but again, a bit too quickly for my liking (and, IMHO, some of those ends were a little too important to warrant such short shrift).

As I said in my review of Pratt's first Dillard book, I'm happy to find a new-to-me series I can turn to when I'm looking for something easy to read and/or to fill in the gaps between release dates of books by my favorite authors. Although this one may be a tad less enjoyable to me than the first one, it certainly didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the series. On to the next!

In Good Faith by Scott Pratt (Phoenix Flying Inc., December 2013); 384 pp.

Monday, May 11, 2015


5 stars out of 5

The author says it took him 10 years to finish this novel; it follows The Rule of Four, a book he co-authored with Dustin Thomason that spent 49 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. And now that I've read it, I understand why. The time it must have taken to ferret out the details that make it so intriguing - from hidden nooks and crannies within Vatican City to nuances in passages from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - boggle my mind (and this from someone who enjoys doing research). But I'll warn others up front: I found it impossible to speed-read my way through the book. The devil's in the details, so to speak, and those details are well worth the effort even though they get a bit heavy at times. Glossing over anything, though, would mean missing way too much. 

Because of the subject matter, comparisons with Dan Brown's books The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are inevitable; I've read and enjoyed both, but in many respects, I found this one more to my liking. For openers, the story is woven more around historical facts, insights into Papal law, Biblical interpretation and differences among Roman and Greek Catholicism than clandestine groups out to destroy the church and human feats that test the boundaries of believability.

There's another big difference: This one is a story about family ties - both with blood relatives and the family that is the Church. At the center are two brothers, Father Alex Andreou and Father Simon Andreou. Their love for each other is strong, as is their love for their churches: Father Simon is a Roman Catholic and Father Alex is a Greek Catholic. Among the differences? Father Alex is allowed to be married, even though he works at the Vatican. He lives here with his young son, Peter - his wife, Mona, abandoned her husband and child a few years earlier.

Early on, a man named Ugo Nogaro, curator of an upcoming exhibit involving the currently debunked Shroud of Turin, is found dead. In addition to his work with the Shroud, Nogaro has been doing extensive research on the four gospels as well as the Diatessaron, a fifth gospel that apparently was written to bring together and clarify differences in those first four books. Father Simon has been helping with the exhibit, and Father Alex, also a teacher and expert on scriptures, has been helping Nogaro with understanding what is written in the gospels.

Because Father Simon was standing near Nogaro's dead body, he is arrested by the Vatican police and stashed away in a secret place. Worse, he refuses to say a word in his own defense. But his brother, Father Alex (from whose perspective the story is told), steadfastly believes in his innocence and sets out to prove it - a journey that delves into the reasons Nogaro was murdered and secrets of both the Shroud and Diatessaron that church leaders may not want revealed.

For those who enjoy learning about the history and workings of the Catholic Church, complex interactions among family members and a good murder mystery, I highly recommend this book (conversely, those who believe every word of the Bible is literal fact probably won't like it at all). And as I said at the outset, it's far from light reading ("tedious" is a word that appears in a couple of the less-than-favorable reviews), but as far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best books I've read in quite some time.

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell (Simon & Schuster, March 2015); 448 pp.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


4 stars out of 5

What could be better than a new series by a favorite author? Answer: A little bit better story. Don't get me wrong, though; I enjoyed this one and absolutely will read the next one, and the next one, etc. But I was hoping for a WOW! kick-off, and it fell short (if only a tad).

The hero of the series is a big guy named Amos Decker, a former police detective and football star in Burlington. As with most characters like this, Amos comes with baggage - loads and loads of it, in fact. First off, his glory days were cut short on the very first play he attempted as a member of the Cleveland Browns pro football team (I'm from Ohio and a big fan, BTW); he took a hit that curtailed his promising football career and very nearly left him dead.

He survived, but not without very unusual after-effects; he has become an "acquired savant," with hyperthymesia. More simply put, he is one of two handfuls of people who remembers every single moment of every single day and can call any one of them up at will (if you watched TV's "60 Minutes" show back in 2010 or the "Unforgettable" series starring Poppy Montgomery, you know what I mean). Decker's condition is even more rare, though, because he also has synesthia abilities - meaning he is able to associate colors with people and objects. Accompanying all this is the loss of much of his ability to connect emotionally with other people.

Those rare abilities may seem like a good thing - and they certainly can be helpful to a police detective - but for the most part they're a liability because there's no way to get the memories out of his head (seeing them in living color as well does nothing to improve the situation). But he manages to get by until a couple of decades later when he gets hit with a blow that nearly kills him again: The grisly murders of his wife, young daughter and his wife's brother in their home. The killer isn't caught, and Decker heads into a downward spiral that takes him to the depths of despair - homeless and living on the streets.

Just as he's beginning to put his life back together some 16 months after the murders, there's a major turn of events as a man turns himself in and claims to be the killer of Decker's family. Couple that with a mass shooting at the local high school, and local law enforcement officials call on Decker to help (working with his former partner Mary Lancaster).

In large part because he's forced to call up old memories he's managed to push below the surface of his brain (insofar as possible), Decker is a reluctant participant in the investigation - which, thanks to the school shooting,  grows to include the FBI. But when it begins to appear that all the tragic events may be somehow related, the two cases take on even more significance and the rush to get to the truth becomes more of an all-out run.

And for the most part, it's a thrilling chase. If I have a complaint, it's that there is an over-abundance of repetition. Granted, given the nature of Decker's affliction, everything plays out in his head over and over and over; but reading it over and over bordered on the tiresome. Besides that, some of the details of how the school shootings were carried out seemed to cross the line of real-life possibility. Still, this book definitely set the stage for further development of this character, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Memory Man by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, April 2015); 416 pp.