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.