Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Suspect

I have read a number of Robert Crais' books, especially the "Elvis Cole" series, and they have all been good--tightly constructed plots, realistic and gritty detail in the settings, and complex character development. This book has two protagonists: Scott James, is an LAPD cop who was gunned down when he and his senior partner, Stephanie, stumbled upon a hit. His partner was killed and James has struggled to overcome his injuries and his PTSD to return to work. He refuses to take the medical retirement he is entitled to or a safe desk job and has instead requested the K-9 unit. The other protagonist is Maggie, a former Marine, whose handler was killed by snipers who also tried to kill her. The head of the K-9 unit isn't very impressed with Scott as a dog person and also doesn't think Maggie is up to the work, as she too suffers from PTSD and jumps at every loud noise. Scott begs for just a couple of weeks to try and bring Maggie up to speed. These two terribly damaged souls tell us the story of saving each other and of catching the people responsible for killing Scott's former partner and leaving him for dead. Crais does a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Maggie as he has always done with getting into the mind of his human characters.
Other blog posts for books by Crais are Voodoo River, Free Fall, and The Last Detective.

Personal

The latest of the "Jack Reacher" novels by Lee Child finds Reacher responding to an ad in The Army Times because he owes someone a favor. When he follows up, he is pulled into an all-hands-on-deck effort to locate the would-be assassin of the French president who took a shot from an extraordinary distance--almost 3/4 mile. The CIA and State Department, think this was only the audition for an attack on the leaders who will be attending the upcoming G8 meeting outside London. The bullet was American, and the only American sniper capable of such a shot is someone Reacher put in jail 15 years ago who is now out of prison and out of sight. Reacher is told he has the best chance of finding this sniper, Kott. Other nations are putting forth similar efforts to track down other snipers from their own military elites, but Kott is all Reacher's, and as Reacher investigates, it appears that Kott is also looking for him.
Reacher gets paired up with a fairly young CIA agent who is the official liaison to the State Department. He doesn't want her there for a number of reasons. She is inexperienced in the field, she is taking tranquilizers to maintain, and she reminds him too much of another young woman who was killed in a joint operation with Reacher. As they travel first to Paris and then to London, Reacher uses brains as well as brawn to figure out where Kott is hiding. But something else is not adding up and Reacher insists at the last minute that his handlers back in the states are kept out of the loop as he closes in on Kott, takes him down, and returns to the states. It turns out that the real enemy was right back at home, where this whole manufactured threat started. A twisty surprise at the end.
Other blog posts on Lee Child books are Never Go Back, Killing Floor, Gone Tomorrow, and 61 Hours

Destroyer Angel

For fans of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series, no further introduction is needed. Anna Pigeon is a ranger for the National Parks Service and these books are generally set in the national parks, although Anna is not always working when they take place. I must have listened to Hard Truth, an earlier book in the series, rather than reading it because I don't have it in my book blog and the characters in this one, Destroyer Angel, I knew from the earlier book...also very much worth a read. In Hard Truth, Anna gets involved with Heath, a former technical climber who is now paraplegic as a result of a bad fall. Heath and her aunt are camping when two half-starved and obviously terrified young girls stumble into their campsite. They have been kidnapped and tortured, but finally escaped. One of these girls is Elizabeth and in the current book, Heath has adopted Elizabeth, who is now 15 years old. Anna is on vacation with Heath, Elizabeth and a woman who designs outdoor equipment for the disabled, Leah, plus Leah's 13-year old daughter, Katie. They are testing out some new designs of Leah's and Anna is just along for the ride on this trip into the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. On their second night, Anna is taking a solo paddle on the Fox River and returns to find that four armed thugs have invaded the camp and taken the two women and the girls prisoner. There is no cell phone reception and Anna is unarmed. She has to rely on stealth, determination, and a certain amount of regression to the wild and savage if she is going to rescue her friends before they disappear or are killed. This is a very tense and grueling story with dark events and some truly evil characters--not uncommon in these books. But the good gals win in the end, although not without taking psychological and physical abuse that will leave them all scarred for a long time.

Moon Called

This is the first book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I recently read the latest book (Frost Burned) in this series and liked it so much that I decided to go back and read the series from the beginning. It is always more interesting to me to see how a character develops as well as which characters make return appearances and what significance that has over time. Mercy is a mechanic for German cars, and a shape-shifter (coyote) and walker, descended from the Native American Coyote of lore and legend. She knows very little about the extent of her powers, beyond being able to change form, in this first book. What we do learn is that she was raised by a pack of werewolves in Montana and returned to her mom and step-father (along with a slew of step-siblings) when she fell in love and planned to elope with the son of the pack's alpha. In her mind, they abandoned her and she has never been back. However events conspire to send her speeding (or at least driving as fast as a VW Vanagon can go) back there when a newly converted werewolf comes to her for help and is then murdered and the neighboring werewolf alpha, Adam Hauptman, is also severely injured and left for dead. Maybe worse is the fact that Adam's human daughter, Jesse, has been kidnapped. Mercy know she does not have the skills to cope with Adam's injuries or his recovery and she does not trust his pack, fearing someone may have betrayed him in a bid to take over. While in Montana, she reconnects with the long-ago love of her life, Samuel, who is sent by his father to accompany Mercy and Adam back to the Tri-Cities and see if they can find out who attacked Adam and killed the young werewolf. We also get to see the preliminary stages of Adam's attraction to Mercy.
The plot is pretty twisty but the action never stops and the characters are great. This is a totally absorbing and fun read if you like the supernatural. Along with werewolves, we also get to meet Mercy's friend Stephan, a vampire, as well as the queen of the local vampire Seethe. And a master metal smith and fairy, Zee, helps Mercy out with the loan of a magic dagger. Highly recommended series so far.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Parker Palmer, known best to me through his book, The Courage to Teach, apparently has written on a number of other subjects. This is a slender volume -- just over 100 page -- and well worth the investment of time, at least to me. He talks I guess most thematically about self-acceptance--recognizing our weak as well as our strong points and embracing them as guideposts to finding what it is we are here on earth to do. And he is very clear that admiring someone for what they do or being told what we should do or aspiring to live up to the values of someone else or some institution outside ourselves is not the best guidance in finding our true calling. He is a Quaker, I think having come to that as an adult, although not entirely sure about that.
Palmer spends one whole chapter talking about what he learned from a couple of significant and lengthy encounters with clinical depression. There were several things that resonated for me, not only my own personal history with depression, but also my concerns about dealing with my sister's ongoing depression.  A few examples: "One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one's selfhood and resisting things that do not." "Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection..." He cites Rilke who says, "love...consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other." and goes on to say that "Rilke describes a kind of love that neither avoids nor invades the soul's suffering."  He said the therapist who he finally found to be helpful said at one point, " Do you think you could see it [depression]...as the hand of a friend, pressing you down to ground on which it is safe to stand?" And "One of the most painful discoveries I made in the midst of the dark woods of depression was that a part of me wanted to stay depressed. As long as I clung to this living death, lie became easier; little was expected of me, certainly not serving others." Finally, "One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person's pain without trying to "fix" it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person's mystery and misery. Standing there, we feel useless and powerlesss, which is exactly how a depressed person feels...In an effort to avoid those feelings, I give advice, which set me, not you, free."
I lingered over-long perhaps on that chapter, but there is much in the book that I found useful. I plan to buy a copy of this book so I can re-read it at my leisure, and maybe even loan it to a friend if the occasion arises. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Black Country

This is apparently the 2nd in a series by Alex Grecian written about the "murder squad" of Scotland Yard that was inaugurated in the late 19th century (i.e., Victorian era), after the Jack the Ripper cases failed to be solved. I could not find much about this unit, but in an author Q & A, Grecian claims it was and is a real unit and that his characters are based loosely on actual men in the unit. Given the unit's purview (i.e., the London metropolitan area), it's a little surprising that, in this story, they have been sent to a small village in coal mining country, Blackhampton, to find a missing family--or at least the parents and the youngest child. Inspector Walter Day and his sergeant, Nevil Hammersmith, have come on ahead of the Yard's first forensic pathologist (also based on an actual person), Dr. Bernard Kingsley. The villagers are a closed lot, highly superstitious, and seem to want to thwart efforts to find the missing family by any means, including drugging the two Yard policemen.  To complicate the picture, there is a terribly disfigured American who has come to the village on a quest for vengeance. The village itself is sinking (sometimes slowly and sometime rather abruptly) into the myriad tunnels dug underground in search of coal; it and the unseasonably cold weather both are characters in this mystery as well. It takes a while to sort out who did what. Two of the older children from the missing family are being looked after by a housekeeper and the local school teacher, and it is clear that they know something about their missing younger brother. A couple of "Interludes" set during the Civil War in the U.S. provide the motivation behind the American's quest and fill in some history on one of the people in the village who is particularly keen to find the missing child. Tied into the story is the fact, initially hidden from the police, that over half the villagers have come down with an illness which is killing them off at an alarming rate. Hammersmith may soon be among them. Day's very pregnant wife makes an appearance in the village, on her way to stay with her sister, and adds dimension to the character of Inspector Day.
Altogether this is a very atmospheric setting, with well developed characters and an engrossing plot line. Not too improbable and yet tricky to figure out. If you like historically based mysteries, this would certainly satisfy.

The Speed of Dark

Oh what an incredibly touching an profound book this is by Elizabeth Moon. A long time ago, I read her other non-series book, Remnant Population, and really liked it, but never read any other books by her. Sister-in-law Joan recommended this one and I am so glad to have read it. Set just a few years into the future, childhood autism has become a think of the past due to genetic tinkering in the womb or shortly after birth. However, that leaves the existing adult autists rather out in the cold. Some of them received early training to learn enough compensatory skills to get by in society. One of these is our protagonist and narrator, Lou Arrendale. He lives on his own, drives a car, and has a good job with a pharmaceutical company, where his pattern recognition skills are providing a valuable service. In fact, there is a whole unit of adult autists working for the company in this capacity. The company receives a tax credit, and the autistic employees are given a specially supportive environment to facilitate their high productivity. But along comes a new regional manager who detests them and all they represent and he is determined to get rid of them. He essentially tells them that they can become subjects in an experimental treatment to "cure" adult autism or risk losing their jobs. Their immediate supervisor, who has a more severely impaired autistic brother, seems--initially--unable to protect them, although eventually he succeeds in revealing and stopping this ruthless manager's illegal plans.
A parallel story occurs in Lou's private life wherein he is attracted to a woman, Marjory, in his small fencing class that meets once a week. Lou has become so adept at fencing that his teacher persuades him to participate in a tournament, where Lou does very well. But another member of the group, Don, hates Lou for his success and because Marjory seems to favor Lou over him. Don begins to do malicious deeds like slash Lou's tires and break the windshield on his car. When Don rigs a small explosive device to Lou's car, the police finally begin to take the events seriously and manage to catch the perpetrator when he tries to shoot Lou.
All these events serve to give the reader insight into Lou's ways of viewing human interaction and dealing with the "normal" people around him. The really profound questions have to do with what normal really means, and whether or not Lou would lose his identity if he agreed to the experimental treatment and was no longer autistic. Lou is an absolutely compelling character, given real credibility by the fact that author Moon has a teenaged son with autism. You will empathize with Lou's concerns, fear for his safety and his future self, and cheer when he prevails. Highly recommended!