Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The English Girl

This book by Daniel Silva was again the discovery of a new author for me. I have certainly heard of Silva but not read any of his work, although that will change now.  Apparently there are several previous installments that involve protagonist Gabriel Allon, described on the dust jacket as "master assassin, art restorer and spy." Here he is called in by no less than the British Prime Minister, whose mistress has ostensibly been kidnapped from Corsica by French criminals and is being held for ransom. Allon agrees to help only because he owes a favor to his British Secret Service counterpart. This is an intriguing plot grounded in current events surrounding control of the the world's oil supplies. At first this appears to be just a grab for money, but it is quickly revealed by Allon to be a "false flag" operation being run by the current day equivalent of the Russian KGB in an attempt to blackmail Britain into selling North Sea oil rights. Layer after layer is revealed as Allon digs deeper and brings in the resources of Israel's Secret Service to carry out a complex sting operation that will both stop the Russians and find the victim. Allon may be rescuing her from more than just a kidnapping, however. Well written, fast-paced, good detailed settings all make this a compelling thriller and I will definitely go back for more, starting with the first in the Allon series.

Open Season

So I went back and ordered the first "Joe Picket" novel in the series from C.J. Box because I have heard good things about this author AND was so turned off by the other book I tried to read by him, The Highway. I have to say, this was a considerable improvement with more complex and interesting characters, at least some of whom I could identify with. Joe Pickett is a fairly new game ranger in Saddlestring, Wyoming. He has two young daughters and a 3rd child on the way. He knows his wife Marybeth has given up her career and the wealthy lifestyle she was accustomed to in order to follow him to various government-owned houses that leave a lot to be desired. Older daughter Sheridan also seems not to like the constant moving. Joe has taken the place of retiring warden Vern Dunnegan, who was a local legend, but has now gone to work as a consultant for a company wanting to run a pipeline through the Bighorn mountains. He is offering Joe the opportunity to work for this same company and make lots of money. But Joe loves his life of being outdoors and safeguarding the wildlife. When a hunting guide stumbles into Joe's backyard late one night mortally wounded and leaves behind a scarred plastic cooler that seems to have been carrying live animals, the real trouble begins. A series of murders is followed by threats to Joe's family, which come from the most unlikely direction. Joe begins to suspect that an endangered species may play a key role in what is happening. Then someone pulls strings to get Joe suspended for losing his weapon in a confrontation with a man he once tried to arrest. Joe is determined to get to the bottom of things while he still can, but the cost is higher than he ever imagined.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Standing in Another Man's Grave

Recent entry in the "John Rebus" (Edinburgh detective) series by Ian Rankin. I have read others in the series and find them generally well-written, well characterized, well plotted.  Rankin's website offers maps and lots of additional info on this series.
You begin to get an inkling that the impetus for the current investigation has something hinky about it fairly early on, but it is not until the very end that it is clear what the ulterior motive of Nina Hazlitt is for finding her long-missing daughter.
Rebus is currently retired from the police, but lending his expertise as a civilian consultant to the local cold cases team. He is getting bored with retirement, though, and, since the retirement age has been raised, he is considering re-applying for his old job. But a member of the Scottish equivalent of Internal Affairs has Rebus firmly in his sights because of Rebus' history of unconventional policing methods, which include consorting with criminals as a way to get information and make arrests. Rebus just happens to be the only one in the office when Nina walks in demanding to see someone. A new missing persons case has re-ignited her belief that her daughter is just one of a string of missing young women who were all taken at or near the A9 roadway. Rebus is the only one to take her seriously, but he finally manages to enlist the help of his former colleague at CID, Siobhan Clarke, who is working the current "mis per" case. As usual Rebus is up to his old bad habits and ruffles plenty of feathers on both sides of the law, but manages to come right in the end. The title of the book refers both to Rebus' mis-hearing of a song lyric, and to the tactic he uses to get a confession from the serial killer.  As with another UK detective character whose books were made into a TV series (Inspector Morse), there are lots of references to music, although of a very different kind.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do

I guess this is the thing to do after a famous author dies--you farm out his/her name to other authors who can carry on the series and the book titles are always prefaced by the deceased author's name. OK. This is a reasonably good continuation of Parker's  "Jesse Stone" series by Michael Brandman, who was apparently involved in the making of both the Spenser and Jesse Stone TV series. He has written several other books in this continuation of Parker's work.
Jesse is called out to a local run-down motel where a young prostitute has been murdered. She has no ID, but for some reason looks familiar to Stone. The motel owner claims to know nothing about her, which turns out to be a big lie. Stone turns to Boston mob contact, Gino Fish, as a way to find out who the victim is and gets directed to two of the major pimps in the area, who, Fish advises, are serious competitors. Thomas Walker has been running prostitutes for some time, using coercion, drug addiction, and imprisonment as his MO. Fat Boy Nelly, a gay pimp, prefers a more collegial model of doing business and, obviously, does not require that the females prostitutes have sex with him. The victim, as Jesse learns, was Janice Becquer, a local girl he had counseled many years back. Stone feels some responsibility for her death as a result, and continues to pursue finding the killer, even after he has sufficiently pissed off one of the pimps, Walker, to the point that Walker is threatening to kill him.
In a parallel story line, Jesse's former accountant and friend, Donnie Jacobs, has wandered off from his nursing home and when Jesse finds him, Donnie says he is being treated badly by the staff of the home. Stone's investigation turns up a pattern of drugging and "parking" troublesome patients and even restraining them to their beds. Because this national syndicate has skated on similar charges in other locations, Jesse takes the novel approach of sending the health, fire and building safety departments after them.  Jesse makes  powerful new enemies--and some friends as well-- in the process of trying to find justice for those who cannot defend themselves.
If you have liked this series (in book or TV form) you will not be disappointed with this story.

The Highway

This novel by C.J. Box never got off the ground for me, even though friends and critical reviews have been favorable and he has won several prestigious mystery awards for other novels (e.g., Open Season and Blue Heaven). I read 80+ page and then the final chapter (something I only do if I feel like I might not continue reading the book) and I stopped reading. Not only was it clear that very bad things were going to happen to women at the hands of a psychopathic long-haul truck driver, but he gets away with it in the end. I did not meet any characters in the first 80+ pages that I liked or even remotely identified with. That being said, I will go back and try a couple of the award winning books to see if these change my mind about this author.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Blood Bound

This is the 2nd book in the "Mercy Thompson" series by Patricia Briggs and I stayed up til 4 am to finish it--yikes! I chanced upon the newest in the series, Frost Burned, and was so captured by the characters and storyline that I immediately tracked down the first one, Moon Called, and started the series from the beginning. Mercy knows most of the preternaturals in her home of the Tri-Cities in Washington state--fae (faeiries), vampires, and werewolves. She herself is a Native American shapeshifter (Coyote) and a "walker" which gives her unique powers beyond becoming four-footed at will. She is less subject to the entrancement of vampires, can talk to ghosts, and can sense magic. When vampire friend Stefan comes to ask a favor, Mercy has to agree because she owes him. She will accompany him, in her coyote form, to a meeting with a vampire who has come into the seethe's territory without notifying the vampire queen. The situation goes terribly awry when the vampire in question turns out to be demon-possessed and incapacitates Stefan, brutally murders an innocent victim in front of Mercy, and then beats but does not kill her. Moreover, he alters Stefan's memory so he thinks he committed the murder. Mercy has to testify at a vampire trial as to what really happened and Stefan is sent to bring the demon-vampire to justice. He is being assisted by two of the local werewolf pack's best soldiers because none of the local preternaturals want the kind of attention this is going to bring. The murderer is wreaking havoc in the Tri-Cities area and all sorts of violent crimes, including murders, have increased in frequency. Mercy is trying to keep the police from finding out about the existence of the vampires while assuring them that action is being taken to find the responsible party. Then the entire posse disappears, two more were's go after them and also disappear, and Mercy knows they are running out of time. The vampire queen tasks her with finding the demon-vampire and Mercy gets a little help from fae friend, Zee, in the form of vampire killing tools, and from a local ghost who tells her, inadvertently, where the demon-vampire is hiding out. Mercy uses her brains as well as her courage to sort the puzzle of where the demon-vampire came from and why now. Absolutely compelling reading with fascinating characters and good local color.

Accused

Another (12th I think) in the series about the all-woman law firm of Rosato and Associates by Lisa Scottoline. Mary DiNunzio has just been made a partner in the firm, although it still doesn't feel real. In the midst of celebrations, a 13 year old girl walks into the office asking to interview Mary and Judy to see if she wants to hire them. She has just come into money from a trust and can now use the money to find out who really killed her older sister, Fiona, six years ago. Allegra Gardner is genius level IQ which means she is a bit of a social outcast--she loves beekeeping, not the most usual or social of hobbies. Her parents, especially her father, are dead set against re-opening the investigation since a man was already convicted and sent to prison. Allegra claims he was falsely imprisoned, that in fact her sister was secretly dating Lonnie, the convicted man. Things spiral out of control when the parents stonewall Mary and Judy and put Allegra in a psychiatric facility. Mary is determined to continue, but Judy backs off, so Mary is left to her own devices to figure out who really murdered Fiona. She is convinced it is the ex-boyfriend but finds out differently when the killer comes after her. There is the usual cast of supporting characters--Mary's family and the Tony's, as well as her live-in boyfriend who has just proposed--all colorfully depicted with their south Philly quirks. Nothing terribly compelling here, but a satisfying read and a good book if one likes strong, imperfect, and engaging women characters.