Happy Reading

Toni's bookshelf: read

The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep, #4)
Ape House
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Operation Napoleon
Walking Dead
The Sentimentalists
The Heretic Queen
The Midnight House
Cross Fire
Peony in Love
Finding Nouf: A Novel
City of Veils: A Novel
First Daughter
A Place of Hiding
Peter Pan

Toni Osborne's favorite books »

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Bangkok 8". by John Burdett

Book 1 in Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep series

This is a police story that stands above many mysteries I have read lately. Although at first glace it seems to rehash the basics found in other books, it was a pleasant surprise to find otherwise.

The story revolves around a police detective investigating a murder that claimed his partner's life and which the main suspect is a well-connected US businessman. Bangkok is the location; it is described as an exotic city where sex is sold on the street and where the police are seen more as businessman making money from crimes committed in their district and providing protection to keep order and peace.

The story opens with Sonchai and his partner Pichai on the trail of Bill Bradley an American marine stationed at the US embassy. They eventually found him trapped in his car with deadly snakes. In trying to get to him Pichai is bitten and dies. Partnerless and still in shock, Sonchai learns more about Bradley's shady dealings from an FBI legal attaché. It is soon evident Washington wants things hushed, not a problem for Sonchai...Different country, different rules ...when the guilty party is found; he will be eliminated... problem solved...

Sonchai is joined by FBI Kimberley Jones and the name of Sylvester Warren, a huge player in the jade market and a powerful man in Washington soon becomes the center of their investigation. The investigators soon realise they are on their own, Washington and the Thai police have cut them adrift.... What the detectives will face on the streets of Bangkok will be surprising to the reader......very interesting...

The clash in culture, police procedures and political influence adds many twists and turns to this mystery setting it apart from the usual humdrum police story. Through the eyes of Sonchai we see a whole different world, one with an unfamiliar social structure and religious beliefs, a place that has a prolific sex industry and an underground active in drugs and jade trading. Gender reassignment surgery is practiced and cheaply performed; bribery and protection favours are an accepted way of life for everyone. The diversified characters are cleverly developed with a good sense of humour that flows smoothly and brilliantly. This novel has its bizarre and macabre moments but is as interesting as it is captivating.

"The False Mermaid', by Erin Hart

Book 3 in the Nora Gavin Mysteries

The novel is a wonderful follow up to "Lake of Sorrow", where once more the author has skilfully combined Irish mythology into a murder mystery.

The story opens where the prequel ended with Nora on her way back to the USA. She is determined once home to review the details and crack open the cold case of her sister's murder that has been haunting her for years. At the same time, when another body with similar trauma is discovered, Frank Cordova, the original police investigator, sees the similarities and decides to reopen the file to see if there is a link.

The second murder has Nora and Frank joining forces, digging deeper and closer to the truth. Their intensive investigation unravels a mystery with many twists and turns.....

I found the story captivating and very hard to put down. The race to get the missing pieces of the puzzle and necessary proof for a conviction is exciting and a real page turner. Nora's willingness to go to all means is stepped up a notch when she realizes her niece's life may also be in peril.

The author has not forgotten Cormac Maguire (Nora's love) left behind in Ireland. A parallel story emerges with Cormac at the side of his ailing father in Donegal, a person he has been estranged from for many years and realizes he has a very short time to make amends with.

While at his father bedside, with a close friend now a beloved caretaker, Cormac is told the story of the century old disappearance of a woman believed to be a selkie (a seal that evolves into a human). The element of the selkie makes for a fascinating and engaging tale of Irish folklore. A great addition giving a mysterious nature to the novel, one that leaves a haunting feeling.....

The two stories weaved nicely throughout the novel and everything was neatly tied up in a conclusion that brought Nora back to Ireland.

The novel is an expertly crafted mystery, one rich in atmosphere and legend. Very well done, I am looking forward to the next instalment.

"Sex in a Sidecar", by Phyllis Smallman

Book 2 in the Sherri Travis Mystery

The Sherri Travis Mysteries are fun to read, light with no fuss about them. A refreshing break one can take between other genre and zip throw them in just a few hours.

This sequel to "Margarita Nights" has Sherri fighting to survive hurricane Myrna now battling the west coast of Florida and threatening to obliterate everything in its path. She fights to keep the drinking establishment she works at open as long as possible but when a patron Gina Ross is murdered and Sherri discovers her lifeless body, skull crushed and laid out in crucifixion fashion, a decision had to be made. It was time to move inland, ride the storm out and apply her trade at the Bath and Tennis Club, a ritzy hangout for the rich and famous.

Over the next few days, while serving cocktails, Sherri learns that Gina's murder was not unique. Gina's sister was also recently murdered and the circumstances of her death were similar to the murder of tourist Bunny Lehre. Nothing like a serial killer on the loose and a bartender with big ears playing detective..... A lethal brew if there ever was one.....will she become one of the many victims?

"Sex in a Sidecar" has many humorous twits and a storyline that is fast paced. The characterization is colorful; some are a tad annoying and far fetched. The volatile interaction between Sherri and her in-laws and the depiction of the bar scenes and its upper crust characters are simply hilarious. The narration is crude and simple at times to highlight the personality of the characters. The author's description of Mother Nature and all her fury attacking the Florida coast is especially well done, not an envious situation to be in. The novel provides a decent mystery but it lacks cohesiveness in its plotting, it is all over the place....like the Hurricane....

If you read and enjoyed the first novel, you will also enjoy this one

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Moscow Rules", by Daniel Silva

Book 8 in the Gabriel Allon series

The story opens with a bang when Russian journalist Aleksandr Lubin meets an untimely death by what is obviously a skilled assassin. He was on a mission to expose Ivan Kharkov, a former KGB colonel who had turned businessman. The journalist's murder triggers alarms with the Israeli intelligence agency and they summon Gabriel Allon to Moscow to look into the matter. The fun begins when Allon discovers that Kharkov has just completed a lucrative deal with Al-Qaeda and with support of allies, Allon must put an end to Kharkov's activities....

"Moscow Rules" is a thriller that exploits the past tensions between the West and USSR up to the present Russia and its part in the rise of world terrorism. Gabriel Allon and Ivan Kharkov are the main players.

The characterisation is strong, Gariel Allon (an art restorer whose secret life as an Israeli intelligence agent) has many countries on his side and is depicted as a smart and smooth operator. Ivan Kharkov (the new generation of Stalinists) is an arms dealer, extremely rich and conning and in control of the FSB (Federal Security Service). The story has many secondary characters that help spin a web of intrigue with many exciting twists and turns. The Hollywood super-hero brings the saga to a successful conclusion, a wrap up easily foreseen.

Some may find this spy story to be a bit stereotypic, I took it for what it is: a tale of espionage and international intrigue written by a master storyteller

"Life of Pi', by Yann Martel

This fiction tells a remarkable story that is full of surprises and wonder. Written by an expect storyteller in such a way that makes everything even the unbelievable sound credible.

The novel is divided in three sections:

The first section recounts a fictional writer's interaction with PI. Pi tells his childhood story of growing up as a son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India and learning a lot about animals, their ways, emotions and traits. In his teens, on a quest to understand who God is, Pi immerses himself into the beliefs practiced by Christians, Muslims and Hindus. A tug of war erupts when the leaders of these religions groups discover Pi's activities and Pi's own brother sarcastically adds another aspect when he suggests that Pi should also embrace Judaism...

Section two continues at a steady and interesting pace. Pi and his family decide to close the zoo and immigrate to Canada; the animals are placed in zoos around the world. The family and many animals are transported on a Japanese cargo ship, a trip that will open a whole new experience for each one of them.

Not long into the voyage, disaster strikes and the ship sinks. Pi is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. In this part of the story, the author dazzles us with literary prose captivating ones imagination to its extreme. The 227 days Pi spent at sea is a constant test of survival in cramped quarters...the ultimate cat and mouse scenario...

In section three, Pi finally reaches the coast of Mexico where Japanese authorities are anxious to interrogate him on the loss of their ship. The Japanese investigators have trouble believing his story so Pi replaces each animal with human attributes and gives them names. At the end, the investigators are left totally confused and with conflicted opinions on what really happened.

"Life of Pi "is a wonderful and cunning novel that is entertaining, eye opening and thought provoking

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Befriend and Betray", by Alex Caine

This is the true story of a civilian Alex Caine who under contract to various law enforcement agencies infiltrated gangs and organizations to gather intelligence. In his own words, Mr Caine paints a portrait of a lifestyle rarely seen.

He grew up in Hull, Quebec, Canada and often lived on the fringes of the law. After serving a stretch in prison on marijuana possession charges in the 60’s, Alex was still unsettled and looking for adventure. His combative nature and USA’s involvement in Vietnam attracted his attention. His enlistment fine tuned his natural abilities to walk a fine line and stay alive….. As many veterans from that era, Alex had trouble settling down.

One day after attending a martial arts competition, Alex was approached by a member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang and asked if he was interested in helping them move a large amount of drugs. Appearing interested but cautious, Alex bought time which he used to inform the authorities. The RCMP asked him to accept the offer and to infiltrate the gang. This launched a new and exciting but highly dangerous career.

Over a period of twenty five years, he infiltrated criminal groups such as the Bandidos, the Hells Angels, the KKK and international mobs. Overtime various law enforcement agencies recognized and used his conning and expertly developed abilities…..

“Befriend and Betray “is a complex and compelling read: a story of a very different world where one cannot trust anyone. While undercover, Caine needed to be creative and live on his wits, wary continuously second guessing the motives of his fellow gang members and his handlers, each with their own objectives.

The book is also about the personal side of Alex Caine, the toll it took on his marriages and his children. After a long time among treachery, fake names and friendships and years away from home ….Alex needed to get away from it all. Now retired from the front line he acts as an advisor and guess speaker at police conferences.

I found this book well written, very believable, especially interesting and very hard to put aside. I am looking forward to reading Mr Caine’s second book “The Fat Mexican”

"About Face", by Donna Leon

Book 18, in Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series

Donna Leon’s novels draw attention to the corruption, the incompetence and the depravity of a society where government agencies live alongside criminal gangs and one may only wonder which one is worst…This latest novel deals with national and international waste-disposal businesses that are riddled with corruption. For those who are fans of Donna Leon novels, this one has no surprise.

The story opens with Brunetti and his wife Paola invited to a dinner meeting at Paola’s parents. Amongst the guests is Maurizio Cataldo who has asked Conte Falier( Brunetti’s father in law) to invest in a venture in China. Conte Falier’s hidden agenda is to have Brunetti investigate this businessman’s background. At the dinner Brunetti is strategically seated next to Franca Marinello, Cataldo’s wife, a charming woman whose face has been disfigured by botched cosmetic surgery. Guido is intrigued by her life experiences….

Back at work the next day Brunetti’s new interest is scuttled by his boss Vice Questore Patta who has other plans for him and would like him to assist the Carabinieri in Marghera on their investigation into the local transport businesses. One of the owners has been killed and they suspect organised crime. In Venice, the environment has reached a crisis, garbage is pilling up and Brunetti soon finds himself in a toxic world where illegal hauling of garbage and violence go hand in hand.

In this latest novel we have an abundance of background information and a lot of attention is given to the relationship between Brunetti and his family. Some is required to set the scenes but there is a limit, it tends to take the focus away from the core of the story: the garbage fiasco, the murders and the mystery behind Franca disfigurement. I found this novel lacking in mystery and criminology compared to her previous novels.

Being a big fan of Donna Leon and having read all of her previous novels I am left somewhat disappointed with this one.