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 »

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Reckless", by Andrew Gross

Book 3, in the Ty Hauck series

As the first chapters unfold, we are slowly introduced to the characters that will take part in this mystery. A major change has Ty Hauck, Mr. Gross’s protagonist, moving on from his former job as police detective to an important post at a corporate security firm. 

The story begins when a close friend from Ty’s past, April Glassman, is found brutally murdered in her home along with her husband and daughter. The firm in a gesture to one of their favourite clients takes on the case and assigns who else but Ty as lead investigator, it is obvious he has a definite interest in finding the reason and those responsible for this tragic incident. Early on into the investigation Ty finds himself in the middle of an ongoing financial conspiracy that has sights set on other targets.

His leads cross those of U.S treasury Agent Naomi Blum and together they follow the money trail, a trail that has them jetting across continents facing danger at every turn, a labyrinth of continuously new information and hazards that all has to be analysed and addressed. What they find at first appears to be a possible terrorist strike against financial managers but later turns out to be something far more sinister involving a much larger scope of the financial community. 

In this latest novel, Mr. Gross has spun his own mystery around 21st century events and seasoned it with plenty of frightening conspiracies and global intrigue, a recipe that will please many readers. Although the plotting is somewhat predictable and quite formulaic, the topic is nevertheless quite interesting and the short and punchy chapters make it an easy read. The characterization is based on two main characters; the intrepid hero and the beautiful female agent as for the rest of the cast they are simply fill-ins. The simplified chemistry is definitely not a mind bender, it left me wishing for more, however all that said and done, this fast paced-thriller was an enjoyable read.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"The Redbreast", by Jo Nesbo

1st book translated into English but the 3rd in the Harry Hole series.

This is a complex Norwegian thriller, a fabulous modern day mystery influenced by captivating and informative flashbacks from events and roles Norwegians were forced into during WW11.

The story begins with Harry Hole, the protagonist, a gifted policeman, who caused his department a high profile embarrassment and was subsequently relegated to surveillance work monitoring neo-Nazi activities, a punishment Harry quickly turns into a new challenge. 

Harry’s speculative mind and acquired skills are just what is needed when word on the street surfaces that someone in the underworld is looking for a very particular vintage sniper rifle. He knows he is on the right track when a former Nazi sympathiser is found silenced with his throat cut and victims of the vintage sniper rifle start to accumulate. From the very first the reader follows the path that Harry takes and also the path the sniper takes, creating a unique suspense, a proverbial high gear cat and mouse game .

The tale’s WW11 tread slowly interweaves into the main as the pages go by. This is a page-turner at its best with narratives that move between Harry’s present day inquiries and the Eastern front in 1944, where a small group of Norwegian Nazis with their own agenda are fighting alongside the Germans and at some point switch their allegiance to Russia and become part of the Resistance. 

The plot is a gripping tale of political intrigue, love and a serial killer with multiple personalities. This fairly long novel is character driven, a rich creation brilliantly composed with every key stroke. I found it hard to grasp at first there were a lot of seemingly unrelated events happening at a rapid pace, I wondered where all the pieces of the puzzle fit, but gradually the pattern took shape and the confusing flashbacks suddenly became clear as the thrill of the mystery escalated.

This police procedural novel is one of the most captivating and compelling stories I have read in a long time. I am hooked on this series and I am looking forward to reading “Nemesis”.

"The Fifth Witness", by Michael Connelly

Book 4 in the Mickey Haller series

If you are a fan of Hollywood spun down and dirty courtroom scenes, you won’t be disappointed with this one. Michael Connelly’s latest novel is a real blast and one of the best legal dramas I have read in a long time. 

” The Fifth Witness” exploits the scandal in the USA that developed around the sometimes unethical means employed in the bundling and reselling of mortgage loans and the live altering grief it caused some of the homeowners. Lisa Trammel is one of those clients, who should never have been lured into such a deal, but now is faced with losing her house and hope for the future. To make things worse, she is also accused of murdering the ruthless banker who was tasked with forcing the issue. Lucky for her, Haller is up for the challenge and is defending her in court. 

Mr. Connelly is undoubtedly a master of courtroom drama, the main part of this novel describes Lisa’s trial and Mickey’s defence strategy. His writing paints a clear picture of the three way battle of wits between attorneys and the judge. The constant war of words between the attorneys, each one trying to score points but looking at the evidences from completely opposing angles is vividly created and provides all the twists and turns needed to heighten the reader’s interest to the end. Your mind mirrors the adrenaline swings the defendant experiences.

The story is very dynamic, quite suspenseful and character driven. The trial of Lisa Trammel turns into a chess match, with Haller highly skilled at seeing the value of each move. He is a defense lawyer who understands that a trial is not a search for the truth but rather a game of survival where winner takes all. This novel has great characterization. Mickey's team consists of his ex-wife Lorna, his investigator Cisco and an associate Jennifer Aronson. All three of them work alongside Mickey to ensure that Lisa Trammel has the best defense possible. They do not want to be influenced by knowing if she is guilty or not….and Mr. Connelly keeps us wondering and guessing to the very end.

The profound plotting with a touch of humour is absolutely absorbing. This was another memorable experience between the pages.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"A Trick of the Light", by Louise Penny

Book 7, in the Chief Inspector Gamache series

In this story we are back on board with Inspectors Gamache and Beauvoir who are still on the mend and recovering from the investigation that went terribly wrong in “Bury Your Dead”, this time they are back at a village made famous in previous novels, the fictional and quint village of Three Pines. “A Trick of Light” is more than a murder mystery; it explores the emotions and the inner struggle brought on by success and rejection, something every artistic painter has to deal with in his quest for fame and recognition. 

The suspense begins with the violent death of a nasty art critic whose words have crushed the careers of many inspiring artists. The critic was discovered in artist Clara Morrow’s garden the morning after celebrating the opening of her first solo exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. There is no shortage of suspects in this competitive field, the list is endless and is sure to include fellow artists, dealers, curators and critics. The case calls for the Sûreté du Québec’s finest and who else but Inspector Gamache and his trusted team are given the challenge…

With subtle and sparse writing, the plot deepens in complexity when Gamache and Beauvoir assisted by Agent Lacoste delve deeply into the art scene and press to uncover its long-hidden secrets. The in depth investigation leads them to the inner circle of the AA just another layer in the mystery they have to deal with….At this point, Ms. Penny’s smooth words spin the tale with so many twists and turns, the reader is sure to find himself in a game of intense speculation trying to stay one step ahead and guess who could be the guilty one.

Although the pacing may seem slow at first it slowly draws you in and once the story starts to gel you are hooked and will enjoy every bit of it to the last page. Ms. Penny is a master when it comes to developing warm and charming characters with unique personalities and complex relationships. She builds a strong atmosphere of soft suspense, the hard core details are left to the reader’s imagination, however fertile it may be. 

This series is an addiction for me; I follow it faithfully and always look forward to read what Inspector Gamache will be up against in his next case. 

For any newcomers I suggest starting with “Still Life”, that way you will start on the ground floor and develop a rapport with the characters and a better understanding of the culture.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Catch", by Sean Quirk

This is Sean Quirk second novel, having read the first; this one is totally different but equally as captivating. I am a fan of thrillers and have read my share, what makes this one stand out is how a tab of supernatural is skilfully mixed into the storyline without losing all sense of realism and readers who are not into hard-core sci-fi . If you realise a thriller novel is not known for its accuracy but rather for action, adventure, hi-tech weaponry, shoot-outs, great heroes and villains (villains that even the reader develops a love to hate), this thriller could be for you. 

The story centers on Catch Harris, a loner and ex-military man that has many skeletons in the closet, is riddled with guilt and just wants to be left alone. One day, Hallie Baker, a waitress, at his favourite diner tries to strike up a friendship; however it is not in his nature to be sociable and automatically rebuffs her. Later, he regrets what he has done and on his way out he wants to apologise but Hallie's shift has finished and is already on her way home. In the parking lot, he witnesses some very menacing men who appear to be forcing Hallie against her will, Catch's military training kicks into high gear and his only objective is to save her. This action proves to be the interlude into a suspense filled read... 

There is never a dull moment once everything starts. We find ourselves shadowing the protagonist into many tense and highly explosive situations, involving a mingled web of villains with futuristic equipment, and of course there is nothing like good old car chases to bring on the adrenaline. The descriptive writing is so vivid you think you are smack into the action, the twists and turns along the way lead to a nicely tied up ending. The intensity of the story and the complexity of the characters make it a very interesting read.

I am looking forward to following Catch Harris on his next adventure.

"The Betrayals of Grim's Peak", by Sean Quirk

Step aside Dean Koontz, Stephen King and J.K Rowling make room for Sean Quirk, a creative writer whose fertile imagination appears to be on the same wave link as yours. If you are of the Harry Potter generation you will love this one. In his first fantasy, Sean Quirk leads his readers, both the young and the mature, into a colourful and entertaining perspective into what life would be at the bottom of the ocean.

The story centers around a boy named Augie who is adopted after being found floating on the ocean surface after a violent under water explosion. After fourteen years of everyday life, Augie's adopted parents bring him back to the site where he was discovered. One day, while standing at the end of the pier and mesmerized by the churning waves he sees nightmarish creatures that follow him back to the safe haven of his parents. This encounter proves to be his first introduction to the magical world of Grim's Peak. When his parents learn the creatures are harmless and have Augie's safety at heart and want to protect him from a menacing force below, they agree to let their son return to a world that appears to be an important part of his past. There he discovers the secrets tying him to this world, the good and the bad, and the hidden dangers that are shadowing him. 

This fantasy is highly imaginative and combines a mix of every weird creature you can think of. The author's vivid descriptions paint a frightening and creepy atmosphere that is so visual I wouldn't be surprise the story will have legs and turn up on a different format and maybe even the big screen someday. The story of course is nonsensical but its great plotting makes it most interesting and intriguing and its fantastic characters make the whole experience refreshing and captivating. Although I am not a die -hard fan of this genre, I nevertheless enjoyed this trip into Mr. Quirk's world.

"A Brewski For the Old Man", by Phyllis Smallman

Book 3, in the Sherri Travis Mystery

This installment is a captivating tale with a serious moral undertone meant to please lovers of soft mysteries and aficionados of female sleuth protagonists. Ms. Smallman's novels are a great escape from hard core detective stories and thrillers, easy and enjoyable to read. 

The compelling plot punctuated with suspenseful moments has restaurateur Sherri Travis returning to her hometown of Jacaranda, Florida. As new owner of the beach front Sunset Bar and Grill she quickly learns the pre-season slump is not all smooth sailing, her hope is to survive till the tourists return and business is in full swing. 

As business begins to pick up, her mother's boyfriend, Ray Leenders, suddenly comes back into the picture. He had taken advantage of her when she was twelve and the memories have haunted her ever since. She kept the secret hidden never telling anyone especially her father, Tully Jenkins, an ex- Vietnam vet with a bad temper and a short fuse. Now years later, Ray reappears dating Rena Cagel, who runs the store below the bar and Sherri suspects he is likely up to his old tricks and abusing her sixteen year old daughter, Lacey. Questioned, Lacey confirms her suspicions and confides that she is also reluctant to tell her mother, she accepts Sherri's offer to stay at her condo to escape the unwanted advances. Sherri confronts Ray and threatens to blow the whistle on him. Things quickly spiral out of control and Tully offers his help and before we know it someone ends up in hospital and Sherri finds herself the prime suspect in a murder case. 

The storyline has a lot of momentum to it especially with Sherri finding herself involved in one crisis after another. Sherri's struggle to untangle everything and stay one step ahead proved to be a touching experience. The threads in this crowded and intriguing plot juggle many themes from domestic abuse, blackmail, greed and even alligator poaching into an expertly written story with a neat conclusion. Several characters are fascinating and well-developed but some are depicted more like loveable caricatures. The storyline is fast paced, has snappy dialogue and is accented with a touch of humour. 

I like this series for its lightness and its down to earth protagonist.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Singer's Gun", by Emily St.John Mandel

I became a fan of Ms. Mandel when I stumbled on her debut novel "Last Night in Montreal". Her second novel is totally different and proved to be just as enjoyable. This time, I was treated to a sophisticated cocktail filled with flashbacks and flash forwards mixed into a fiery mystery of suspense, international intrigue, a tale of family loyalties and the price one pays to obtain independence. 

The story concerns the conflicting and intersecting interests of Anton Waker, his ex-secretary/lover Elena, his cousin Aria and the detective bent on bringing down the family business, Alexandra Brodon.

Anton wants a normal life, have a family and a desk job. He is tired of doing things that are immoral and being involved in the illegal business of his parents, but his ties are strong and hard to break. Anton reinvents himself as a successful middle manager in another field but his carefully constructed life soon begins to disintegrate around him. His past comes back to haunt him when his cousin Aria threatens to reveal his roots in crime if he doesn't do one last job. Now he is forced to choose between family and his desire to live a life on the good side of the law..... How can he keep his past buried for ever?

The story is well-crafted without the slam-bang action found in most thrillers. It explores the dangerous territory between ones duties to family versus ones desire. The writer's prose remain sturdy and lean throughout, slowly drawing you in, gradually building tension until you are hooked and holding your breath in anticipation and savouring every word while turning the pages. Anton Waker, is Mandel's mysterious, complex and conflicted protagonist and the rest of the cast is carefully nuanced to create a unique atmosphere. It is easy to relate with Waker, he really doesn't seem like a criminal at all, a good person at heart unfortunately brought up on the wrong side of the fence.

I enjoyed this novel very much; Emily St. John appears on the right track to be a diversified and gifted writer.

"Bloodmoney", by David Ignatius

A Novel of Espionage

This spy novel is one of the best Mr. Ignatius has written so far. What makes this author stand out is we never know where the plotting will lead us. Deception is the theme of this captivating thriller, it is based on actual CIA operations and only someone with experience in the field can guess where fact crosses into fiction. 

The central character is Sophie Marx who works at the ''Hit parade LLP' office in a Los Angeles, it is a secret branch within the CIA that works under the radar and deploys agents around the world. 

The story starts when Howard Egan whose cover is a hedge fund manager for Alphabet Capital in London goes missing on a mission in Pakistan. Alarm bells are triggered when other operatives also deep under cover are eliminated one by one. Sophie Marx must find out who is killing them and how their lock-tight identities were compromised. The action and excitement begins when we are plunged into a game of deception and double-talk where each side has their own agenda while maintaining an artificial relationship with each other. 

The characterization, the dialogue and the interaction between the players skillfully displays the cultural differences and helps hype the suspense to another level. The pacing is brisk, the writing is clean and efficient and the plot is believable and free of melodrama found in many thrillers of this genre and as the plot unfolds it pulls us bit by bit into a world of upper level finance and the covert operations of world intelligence agencies.

This is an adrenaline packed adventure into the black hole of international diplomacies. The end result is an engaging page turner that will keep you intrigued for hours.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Captive Queen", by Alison Weir

A novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a fascinating woman and a legend; highlights of her life have been recounted numerous times. This historical fiction is yet another side of the turbulent life of one of the world’s most passionate and charismatic queens. The tale is told with vitality and empathy and gives a new dimension on the terrible story of lust and fruitful union which eventually turned into a marriage from hell.

The novel opens in 1152, when Eleanor then married to Louis VII of France and mother of two daughters meet and was smitten by young Henry FitzEmpress (Henry II) who was 11 years her junior. Eleanor’s less-than-fulfilling marriage to Louis VII led her into the arms of Henry and with her divorce and subsequent marriage, they became one of the most powerful unions in Christendom with control over Anjou, Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine and eventually England, when Henry was crowned king. At first their attraction is magical and filled with lust and passion, their union yields eleven children. Unfortunately through the years their love turns to bitterness and their life begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries and Eleanor’s long imprisonment.

I enjoy quality historical fiction from time to time but his one left me somewhat disappointed. It took a while to warm up to the characters there was too much emphasis on their bedroom exploits but the modern narrative and language made it easy to understand, however the consequences are, it also resembled a romance novel with all its clichés. The best part of the book in my view is the chapters around events concerning Thomas Beckett; this interesting person spiked my interest.

To say that this novel is not well-written or engaging would be false, Ms. Weir manages to capture the essence of a medieval marriage, one of love and convenience, that led to one of  the most extraordinary and tempestuous marriages in history.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Edge", by Jeffery Deaver

This action packed, fast paced, heart-pounding brain-teaser pits two ruthless professionals against each other in a cat and mouse game. The suspense generated plays nifty tricks on your mind and every time someone new wanders across the page the atmosphere builds. 

The storyline is narrated in the first person and has great plotting and a wonderful cast of characters. One of the main characters is a “shepherd” named Corte who is charged with protecting a principal named Ryan Kessler from a “lifter” named Henry Loving. (A shepherd is the person in charge of protecting another person (the principal) and the lifter is the person employed to interrogate and extract information from the principal by deadly force or using a family member or friends as leverage. It is challenging at first, there are a lot of acronyms and terms for us to get our heads around but once we get into the swing of things, we are adeptly provided with all the twists and counter-twists to keep us constantly on our toes, we never know what is coming next. 

The task our hero, Corte, faces is not easy. We learn the Kessler family is a family with many problems and Ryan is no exception, he is cop with a drinking problem and a complex. Corte is faced by an ever-increasing number of distractions, complications in a deadly game as he and his opponent Henry Loving jostle for position from chapter to chapter. 

This intellectual and psychological thriller gripped my attention from the very beginning and never let go. Corte, a board game aficionado and Loving a very capable nemesis each trying to outwit the other in a real-life game of chess using people as pawns proved to be intriguing, captivating and quite fulfilling from start to finish. It was my first experience reading this author and it will not be the last.

"The Reversal", by Michael Connelly

Book 3, in the Mickey Haller series
Book 16, in the Harry Bosch series

In The Reversal, Connelly reunites Detective Harry Bosch with his half-brother, defence lawyer Mickey Haller, but this time, Haller plays the part of a prosecutor and together they work as a team with the same goals in mind. The suspense is part legal thriller and part police procedural. We follow Bosch and Haller each an expert in their own field as they process the many ups and downs and twists and turns of a very controversial and demanding case.

The author continues to push the boundaries of crime fiction by redefining and joining two exciting protagonists with different backgrounds into a legal quagmire. The story is told with chapters that go back and forth in time and alternate from first to third person, they condense decades of time into a compelling narrative that explores various elements of L.A.’s criminal justice system. 

The story reopens a twenty four year old case in which little Melissa Landy was abducted from the front yard of her Hancock Park home while playing hide and seek with her sister. At the time, tow truck driver Jason Jessup was convicted of her murder but modern day technology, DNA evidence has led to the reversal of Jessup’s conviction. But not everyone is convinced… 

Haller, a wisecracking cynic and highly competent grizzled veteran of countless courtroom battles switches from defence to prosecution and as readers we shadow him through countless courtroom shenanigans. The author portrays with a passion the grinding process and the emotions of everyone involved. Haller and Bosch share the spotlight with second chair Maggie McPherson and FBI profiler Rachel Walling who makes a cameo appearance. Melissa’s sister Sara who witnessed the abduction plays an important part.

Both Bosch and Haller are fighting the odds, evidence gathered so far is not in their favour. They must prove without any doubts Jason Jessup is a sadistic killer and must stop him before he can strike again. Bosch is very adept at manipulating emotions and gathering facts, he is the driving force and the one most invested in nailing Jessup. 

“The Reversal” is a classic investigative plot with some interesting high points but the pacing bogs down at times with the long tedious court scenes. I enjoyed the teaming of the two protagonists as a change but I prefer seeing them in their own environment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Cleopatra's Daughter", by Michelle Moran

“Cleopatra’s Daughter” is a fascinating snap shot into Imperial Rome, its people and the events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Although a fiction the story has many true elements to it, it depicts a life of more than two thousand years ago when the children of Mark Antony and Cleopatra were taken from Egypt and raised several years on the Palatine. 

Narrated by the young Selene, the story begins on the fateful day when Octavian marched into Alexandria and claimed it as his own. Following the deaths of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Selene along with her two brothers Alexander and Ptolemy are taken in chains to Rome to be delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Unfortunately only the 10 year old twins, Selene and Alexander, with the support of each other, survive the journey. In Rome, at the hands of their captor Octavian, they are never far from danger or potential death. They quickly learn their survival depends on keeping vigilant and silent in the house of Caesar. 

Woven with bits of intricate detail, the novel not only tells the story of these remarkable children but also expounds on ancient Rome and the notorious and unforgettable people who lived during that period. The author tells the story in a very captivating and exciting manner and the characters have been finely tuned to enhance the atmosphere even further. 

There is no need for extensive knowledge of history to enjoy this wonderful tale of hardship and intrigue.

"Shadow", by Karin Alvtegen

Did you ever wonder why you had a particular book in hand? When I finally got down to reading “Shadow” I questioned why and how long it had been on my tattered wish list, and why I had past it over for so long. Now I ask myself why I waited so long to read it. 

The novel is a psychological crime thriller about dark secrets, the price of fame and how the search for public approval can drive some to make unsound decisions that have lasting or tragic repercussions. It also touches the impact our childhood has on the rest of our life.

One often describes a book as hot and hard to put aside, this is surely a true description of this one. The story is one with depth, many layers and full of secrets and rivalries between the characters. As this dynamic book progresses we are plunged deep into the history of four generations of the Ragnerfeldt family and we learn more about their connection with Kristopher, the little boy abandoned yes ago. “Shadow” is a literary closet filled with skeletons of the past… 

The novel begins with a brief flashback to 1975 when a boy was discovered abandoned at an amusement park with a short note seeking a better life for him. Fast forward to the present day and the plot tightens with the death of an old woman – Gerda Persson, the former housekeeper of the highly respected Nobel Laureate Axel Ragnerfeldt. With Gerda’s passing a door opens into the real life of the Ragnerfeldt family, a life full of infidelity and dark secrets…..

The plot builds slowly with multiple story threads that go back and forth in time, skillfully creating a suspense that is lively and thought provoking. Each player is introduced one by one, each with their own theme and their own story building a page-turning drama only a gifted storyteller could master.

Although “Shadow” is a gripping and absorbing tale of murder, I was nevertheless disappointed with the ending, it left the fate of many characters in limbo and I wonder if the author has something up her sleeve for the future.

"Drawing Conclusions", by Donna Leon

Book 20, in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

As usual Ms. Leon’s social concerns always play a prominent component of her mysteries; in her latest tale she looks into how a civilized society treats abused women and the elderly. The catchy setting is the romantic waterways of Venice with the loveable and caring Commissario Brunetti at the helm.

The story opens with the death of sexagenarian, Widow Costanza Altavilla, from what appears to be a fatal heart attack in her apartment in Santa Croce. The medical examiner concludes, no foul play, death by natural causes. Brunetti’s experience and instincts lead him in a completely different direction, why would an elderly woman living alone have clothing of different sizes and style not fitting her stature? Digging deeper he uncovers the fact she was running a clandestine safe house for women seeking shelter from domestic abuse, perhaps her death is the result of an encounter with a violent partner of one of these women. Eventually the enquiry brings him to a senior citizens home and to a gallery of a questionable art dealer……and with the help of Inspector Lorenzo Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra Zorzi, the truth surfaces and justice prevails.

As we expect from Ms. Leon, the novel is beautifully written, narrated with elegance and sly humour. Set against a backdrop of police indifference and corruption we see another side of Brunetti, distressed and having contradictory feeling towards the casual attitude of his fellow Venetians. The story is well-paced and moves very quickly with some unexpected twists to keep us guessing till the end, a never ending game of speculation trying to guess what really happened to Signora Altavilla. As always, the domestic interludes play a vital part of Donna Leon’s novels, this one is no exception. She has seasoned her story with moments that reflect her protagonist’s compassion, principles and the love for the simple pleasures of life. 

“Drawing Conclusions” is an interesting and captivating addition to the series I enjoyed thoroughly

Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Bidding", by Bill Haugland

 2nd novel in the Ty Davis mystery

Former Montreal news anchor Bill Haugland recreates in his Ty Davis mystery the life of an eager crime reporter with his cameraman at his side and his trusty pen and notebook ready to follow ambulances and police cars in a quest to capture the next great scoop. This second novel is a mix of murder accented with arcane symbols reconstructing events that made the news during the 1970s. The main theme digs deep into scandals involving a religious cult, the action focuses on senior news reporter Ty Davis who works at CKCF, his character was first introduced to us in 2009 with "Mobile 9".

The story begins in 1972, with the abduction of a Montreal girl walking home from school. When her body with those of her kidnappers are found in a farmhouse in St-Sauveur, the nucleus of the investigation relocates to the vibrant Laurentian community. The police soon discover strange circles, symbols and triangles drawn on the floor of a secret room in the basement leading investigators to believe there is more behind this strange abduction. Could this be an occult ritual killing?

Ty Davis and his French counterpart Réal Gendron are well-known for their aggressiveness in bringing the latest breaking news to the public ear. With their strong contacts they are soon drawn into a bizarre sequence of events and find themselves in the middle of a complex international conspiracy that weaves back and forth between the Quebec and the Swiss headquarters of a religious cult.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Davis faces personal problems that also need to be addressed while he pursues the demands of his job.

Mr. Haugland has delivered a captivating glimpse into the past, a blend of actual events and fiction that brings back memories of headlines, a blast from the past. The novel may not tell the full story but reading it brought me back to a very tumultuous time, not only with this sad event but also with the political and labour unrest that made the news on a daily bases. The author’s long experience and passion for reporting the news enhances the story tenfold. His writing style is down to earth and expertly captures the atmosphere of the time.

In my review of "Mobile 9", I mentioned how much I loved the intrepid Ty Davis and the rest of the cast, I am still smitten, once again the author has penned an exciting read and I am looking forward to Ty’s next adventure.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Rules of Betrayal", by Christopher Reich

Book 3, in the Jonathan Ransom series

In 'Rules of Betrayal', Jonathan is called to action by the same U.S. military team that trained his wife Emma to be a deadly operative in the espionage game. This time, however, Jonathan has a very short time to learn the ropes and rules of survival before he is placed in a precarious, life-threatening situation.

The story opens with Jonathan in Afghanistan continuing his work on his own without the assistance of Doctors without borders. When his assistant betrays him and all hell breaks loose Jonathan finally gets the occasion to meet Connor, Emma's former boss, who plays an important part in the eventual rescue by an American covert team.

We also learn Emma was recently unmasked as a double agent during an arms negotiation that went terribly wrong. Jonathan has problems accepting this theory but the mounting facts haunt him. The Division fears Emma has gone rogue somewhere in the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and is helping a wealthy arms dealer locate and retrieve a long-lost U.S nuclear warhead missing in remote snow covered mountains. With this revelation, Connor has no trouble enticing Jonathan to work with them on their next operation...

A Mossad agent named Danni will be his primary trainer and show him the latest techniques in the art of foreign espionage. The idea is to have Jonathan replace a Swiss plastic surgeon who is known in the underworld to alter the appearance of terrorists. The word on the street is a rich terrorist operative connected to the warhead wants to alter his appearance and it is felt Jonathan can gain valuable intelligence from him.

This novel of international espionage is suspenseful from start to finish, a thriller that kept me on the edge and rapidly turning pages. The story has the necessary elements to make it interesting: plenty of action, wonderful players, an exotic local and an exciting storyline made to measure for our hero, Jonathan. The author has created Jonathan as a unique character always willing and able but somewhat manipulated by both his wife and government officials. On the other hand, Emma is portrayed as a fearless super woman...

Mr. Reichs crisp dialogue, simple prose and short chapters make reading his books a pleasure.

"Worth Dying For", by Lee Child

Book 15 in the Jack Reacher series

Jack Reacher's new adventure will bring him closer to Virginia, his eastward destination. He leaves Bolton, South Dakota and his adventure in '61 Hours' behind him by hitching a ride that takes him to a desolate town in Nebraska County, his intention is to stay overnight at the only motel in town and hit the road early next morning. Avid followers of Reacher know better, trouble is never far behind.

You will think that after fifteen episodes, Reacher would know enough to keep his distance from trouble. This time his plans change when he befriends a doctor that is trying to drown his sorrows at the motel bar and offers to help him when he gets an emergency call to treat a local woman in distress. When they realise she has a broken nose and is a victim of conjugal violence, Reacher feels he is the woman's only line of defence. He soon gets embroiled in a power struggle between the town's people and the husband's powerful family. The family enforcers do not like strangers meddling in personal matters and have a tendency to discourage any involvement with brute force. After many encounters and looking like a pro-fighter on a bad day, Reacher wonders how his friend Susan in Virginia will react to his roughed up appearance. Giving back the town's people their self-respect is his immediate concern and leaving the local undertaker plenty of work has always been his trade mark before he moves on....

This novel has all the ingredients to be a successful thriller: a tough hero with a code of ethics and true American values, easy to read, although the prose may seem a bit rough it is nevertheless clear and concise, the dialogue is rather artificial but don't let it bother you too much, the storyline is an absurd and unbelievable one but full of suspense with enough violence to satisfy the average fan. It's corny, it's fun, and it's a real blast to read.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Agent X", by Noah Boyd

Also published under the title “Last Chance to Die”

Book 2 in the Steve Vail series

Former FBI Agent Steve Vail and Assistant Director Kate Bannon are back. This second instalment to “The Bricklayer” works perfectly well as a stand-alone title although to understand where the characters come from, it is always preferable to read books in sequence. This is definitely for the dye hard lovers of espionage.

In a blurb: 

Steve is asked to return to the FBI by Director Bob Lasker to handle a particularly challenging and sensitive case involving Kate Bannon, former confrere and Steve’s sometime love interest. She was rumoured to have attempted suicide but the director was never really convinced and would like to prove it. Steve agrees to help and immediately digs into the mystery and the deceit behind Kate’s incident. Steve and Kate work together on leads that take them deep into the political world and the dark and dangerous underground of foreign espionage involving the Russians.

My thoughts:

This second novel is a fast-paced and intricately detailed thriller giving an overview on how a FBI Agent may proceed in solving high-profile cases. The author presents us with a challenging story and a smart-alecky lead character, Steve, who had no trouble recognizing that the Russians had moles working within the FBI. Navigating a maze of hidden codes and deciphering the names of the rogue agents became his priority, a delicate operation, one he exceled at, a real cat and mouse game to get to the agents before the Russians eliminate them and silence their mission. 

I enjoyed most of the story, although, I admit losing some focus along the way. The plot is loaded with puzzles and plenty of action; some are repetitive and border on the silly side at times, nevertheless, the storyline is nicely written and is an entertaining read. My favourite of all the characters is Kate Bannon, she is far more engaging and intriguing than the wild card lead protagonist. It was also fun to follow the hot and cold romance between Kate and Steve; the dialogue between them is rather peppered with sarcasm making it an interesting relationship…Overall, the story is a well-rounded with a little something for everyone who is attracted to the world of thriller novels.

This series may come to a sudden end with the sad and unfortunate passing of its author.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Supreme Justice", by Phillip Margolin

This novel is an exciting thriller, a puzzling murder mystery involving a ghost ship and the President’s nominee to the U.S Supreme Court. The story leads us in a twisted tale that opens more questions than answers involving a real soup mix of law enforcement officers: local police, state police, CIA, FBI, Homeland security and the U.S. Supreme court… (Hahaha it seems the only group missing is the keystone cops :) )

This is quite an involved story with numerous characters, plots and sub-plots weaving in and out.

The main plot involves an attack on Felicia Moss, a Supreme Court Justice, who has the swing vote concerning a death penalty case reviewing the fate of Sara Wooddruff, a police officer, convicted of murdering her boyfriend, John Finley. When the officer’s appeal reaches the top court, shadowy links begin to surface to a mysterious ghost ship and several cold case murders. Reopening the case threatens to uncork a bubbling mess hidden within the justice system.

Private investigator Dana Cutler, FBI Agent Keith Evans and attorney Brad Miller are brought in to determine why the murder case is causing shockwaves in Washington. As they search for answers, they are forced to pull out every trick in the book, jump many hoops and cross many avenues. The result will inevitably leave a warm spot in the heart of any demanding mystery reader.

This book is sharply written with an interesting and charming cast. Although some recurring characters from “Executive Privilege” have the lead roles, not knowing their past history did not deter my interest, the non-stop action kept me on the edge of my seat and entertained for hours.

With No One as Witness", by Elizabeth George

Book 13, in the Inspector Lynley series

I am happy to see with this instalment my beloved protagonists Thomas Lynley and his partner Barbara Havers back to the forefront and plunged into a suspenseful case complete with red herrings and gritty crime scenes. The book provides an intellectual challenge, its 600 pages or more is a kaleidoscope of complicated themes and sub-themes crisscrossed with a rich narrative that keeps us on the edge of our seat while tracking the numerous players that pop in an out of the storyline.

In this novel we follow the procedures that Scotland Yard Detectives employ on the trail of a serial killer who targets young boys in London and displays their bodies in a gruesome manner. Commissioner Hillier realises he has a serial killer when a fourth victim, a white teen, surfaces with similar wounds to three other non- white victims, he also realises he has to stay ahead of media hype and diffuse any accusations of racial preference by promoting officer Nkate ( a black man) to Detective Sergeant. The commissioner wants full control, puppets on a string style, Nkate handling the general public side and he is pressuring Lynley to work closely with a respected profiler and a in your face reporter. Thomas Lynley is at odds with these orders and the friction between them quickly builds… Where there is friction Barbara Havers’ name always surfaces. She is still under scrutiny since her demotion but once more her style of working against the grain will bring success to the case.

Meanwhile on another thread, on Lynley’s home front a tragedy awaits that will alter his life for ever…..

Although overall the storyline moves at a slow pace I was immediately engaged in this drama that is far darker, more sombre and definitely more tragic than any of the previous endeavours in Lynley’s career. I can’t wait to see what happens next, my library is a little behind in this series

"The Godfather of Kathmandu", by John Burdett

Book 4 in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series

The writer’s speciality is to take his readers on an exotic and mysterious jaunt exploring the back streets of Bangkok where sex is a marketable commodity. He drags us into a culture unknown to many with his observations of the drug trade and official corruption. He also touches through his protagonist the religious customs of Tibetan Buddhism.

As the book opens, Sonchai is struggling with the loss of his son and is depending more and more on a mixture of drugs and Buddhism to carry on his day to day life. Nevertheless he takes on the case of Frank Charles, a famous film director, murdered in a gruesome manner at a local flophouse.

Meanwhile, Sonchai’s boss, Colonel Vikorn, is drawn into an alliance with his arch rival officer Zinna in one of the biggest drug deals to date. He appoints Sonchai as his trusted “Consigliere” to assist him in his dealings and on various errands. The word on the street between drug mules leads Sonchai to Kathmandu where he falls under the influence of his mantra and is smitten by Tara, a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist refugee. Eventually he returns to Bangkok and retargets his efforts to the Frank Charles investigation, finding the cause of death and the true culprit becomes a priority.

Sonchai narrates many of his thoughts in the first person and shares them with his “farang” (western reader) as though the reader was his guardian angel. He also purveys a rather cynical tone and switches between the present and the past tense. His character is well-crafted, a rather unique, unusual and bizarre detective. The story is written with the intricacies of crime and the culture and seasoned with a vivid description of food, sights and the sounds of a vibrant city. The plot is meaty although I found the style to be challenging with its many surprises that continually jockey for the readers’ attention.

To enjoy this series depends strongly on personal taste; I find I am slowly losing interest.

"Ape House", by Sara Gruen

“Ape House” is a light read that attempts to open the animal world to us by bringing the Bonobos Apes to life in an original way.

This is a story about a family of Bonobos, their caretaker scientist Isabel Duncan and a down to earth reporter John Thigpen. I will cover the plotting in a few words, it begins with the primate language laboratory being bombed and Isabel left badly injured, severe enough to end up in the trauma ward of the closest hospital. The Bonobos fall into the hands of a porn producer and are locked up in a house with cameras broadcasting their every move on cable television. Reporter John Thigpen covers the story while his personal life is on a down turn, his home life it is about to take a drastic change. The plotting gets meatier when Isabel is released from hospital and teams up with John to find out who targeted the laboratory, for what reason and what has happened to her family of apes.

The story explores in a far-fetched semi captivating manner, the issue of animal rights from the point of view of activists, scientists and the public. The plot takes a meandering course with a bit of action here and there mostly done by the humans, there are also subtle references to sexual activities amongst the apes and their unique methods of communication. I found this part satire and part morality driven tale was presented to us by a cast of lackluster and easily forgotten characters, maybe if the Bonobos had been given a greater role it would have left a more lasting impression. Unfortunately the book started strong just to peter out by the end, I was disappointed when the tale did not capture the apes’ behaviour, gestures and emotions in a more detailed fashion.

Although the story was not what I had anticipated, I nevertheless enjoyed the change.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest", by Stieg Larsson

Book 3, in the Millennium trilogy

This series has captivated me from the start, not only that each instalment is a superior pager-turner that manages to draw you into the world of interesting characters it also delivers a story that is riveting and wholly engrossing. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is complex, satisfying and clever.

The final instalment picks up where the second left off. Lisbeth is in hospital under arrest and fighting for her life in intensive care, while her father, two rooms from her, is being treated for his axe wound to the face. From the start, the story is so crammed with characters, plots and sub-plots it will take a book itself to summarize the main points only.

The author loves to takes us on many side trips such as exposing the dirty secrets of the Swedish Secret Service while Lisbeth recuperates from her injuries and contemplates her revenge while waiting for her day in court. The plotting can be convoluted and challenging at times and the wild ride continues with Blomqvist exposing Zalachenco and his contacts with the Swedish government. True to the author's style, he has our heads spinning one curve after another, an endless supply of highs and lows. The many minor characters can give the reader a case of information overload, however, the storyline neatly wraps up the fate of each major player including the fascinating heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

Regrettably this seems to be the end of the series. I will miss Mr. Larsson's contributions to the world of suspense novels.

"Operation Napoleon", by Arnaldur Indridason

Written over a decade ago but only recently translated into English "Operation Napoleon" is quite different from what we have become accustomed to. Arnaldur Indridason has deviated from his usual sleuth detective hero mystery to write an imaginative standalone thriller telling a story that reaches back to World War 11.

It begins in 1945 during the last months of the war when a German bomber on a clandestine mission is forced to crash- land on one of Iceland's largest glaciers. The plane and its passengers, senior American officers travelling with their German counterparts on a joint mission were quickly swallowed up by nature's harshest elements. They were missing but never really forgotten for many years.

The action swiftly shifts to the United States in the year 1999. The military always kept vigilance on the location and in later years through high-tech satellite imagery. When changing ice conditions revealed traces of the plane, a covert team was immediate dispatched to the site to recover the plane and its hidden secrets.

It so happens at the same time, groups of mountain rescuers are on a training mission and one of the teams, Elias and his friend, stumble across the wreckage guarded by armed US soldiers pointing guns at them. Suspicious of what they see, Elias immediately contacts his sister Kristin, a lawyer at the Icelandic foreign ministry, and manages to brief her before they are overwhelmed by the soldiers. The soldiers mandate under 'Operation Napoleon' is to maintain total secrecy at all cost. With the elimination of Elias and his friend they realise Kristin must also be silenced and the sooner the better .... The chase is on.

The story continues at a fast pace, Kristin realises American operatives are after her and fears for her life, her only solution is to outsmart and outwit them. She feels if the crash site and those dedicated to keep it a secret are made public knowledge, the world will question what they are hiding at all cost.

This thriller is highly captivating and exciting throughout; the action is a little farfetched at times but is nevertheless very well done. The theme is sharply written with depth rarely found in today's thrillers. I like the characterisation; the players are well-penned and have sufficient depth to be memorable, Kristin is especially well developed as a very resourceful heroine. Some may find the story portrays the Americans in a negative light but any thriller is based on two or more opposing sides and as we all know controversy can really stimulate one's mind and the sale of books, so I take it for what it is: an entertaining fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed.