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 »

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"The Informant", by Thomas Perry

Book 3, in the Butcher’s Boy series

Although I haven’t read the first 2 novels it didn't take me long to catch up and be captivated and totally absorbed in the excitement of this fast paced thriller. This series was first conceived in 1982 and has taking until now for the 3rd installment. One would think with such a large time span it would be hard to get into the swing of things, however, the author has added just enough details to bring us up to speed and set the stage for his protagonist, retired Michael Schaeffer. When he was younger Michael was employed by the Mafia and was eventually known in many circles as the Butcher’s Boy, an inner circle hit man. Inevitably, knowing too much he became a liability, realising his days were numbered he assumed a new identity and escaped the clutches of the Underworld just in time.

The story opens with Michael in his 50’s and 20 years into his new identity, living a quiet life with his wife in the U.K. One day his life takes a drastic change when he learns Frank Tosca, a ruthless underworld boss, has discovered his whereabouts and sent two of his assassins to fulfill a long standing contract on his life. With his new life as a family man threatened, Michael’s instincts for survival that were highly tuned while he was part of the underworld quickly kick in. He decides to confront his situation by attacking the man at the head, first he has to get up to speed on the current hierarchy and to do this he contacts Elizabeth Waring of the Justice Dep’t organized crime section. Elizabeth has known of his existence for over 20 years and realises helping him could be the catalyst to a new assault on organized crime….. The hunt is on in both the U.S. and Canada with Michael often barely escaping with his life.

This thriller is absolutely riveting from start to finish. The gamesmanship is breathless and the nonstop suspense starts the moment Michael becomes both prey and predator. The plotting is well-paced, complex and always exciting with a multitude of fascinating characters.

To sum things up, it is obvious I enjoyed this story immensely.

"Killed at the Whim of a Hat", by Colin Cotterill

Book 1 in the Jimm Juree series

This delightful first entry into a new series is set in southern Thailand and focuses on Jimm Juree, an eccentric 34 year old woman, who desperately wants to become a senior crime reporter. In a public oration course in college, Jimm has studied the speaking style of President George W. Bush and all through the mystery the author strategically quotes some of the President’s slips and gaffes to add a touch of humour to the story.

Jimms first big break comes at the start of the story when a van containing the skeletal remains of two hippies, one wearing a hat, is discovered buried in a local farmer’s field. While on the scene recording the events, a second scoop comes her way. She learns an abbot at a local monastery looking into the sexual activities of monks and nuns has been found stabbed to death. Jimm is an aggressive but careful investigative reporter driven by passion for her profession and eager to prove herself by taking on both cases. She realises this could make or break her career and if all goes well could thrust her into the limelight of national papers.

The highlight of the story is the playful narrative that explores the Thai sexual openness, the ethnic tensions and the devious politics. This novel is compassionate, funny and dark. What I liked the best is the author’s humour and his wacky characters. On a minor note, I found the strong characterisation had the tendency to override the plotting at times and the pacing bogged down and wandered a little too much for my liking. "Killed at the Whim of a Hat" is essentially an introduction to a new protagonist, her family and friends.

From what I see so far I can honestly say I am looking forward to the future development of this series. Things are definitely off to a good start for Jimm Juree.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"A Good Day to Die", by Simon Kernick

This captivating and complex suspense story brings us back to the ongoing saga of disgraced ex-police inspector Dennis Milne. We were first introduced to Dennis in “The Business of Dying” and I suggest reading this novel first in order to understand why this intrepid protagonist ended up on the run as much from the police as from criminals. In this second installment, Dennis is now surrounded by low-life hoodlums, underworld overlords and corrupt upper figures of society.

Since our last encounter with Dennis he has had plastic surgery and moved to the Philippines and is known by locals as Mick Kane. He is now earning a living in the diving-supply trade with a former informant Tomboy Drake and moonlights for extra cash by working part-time as a hit man for London criminal Les Pope, an underworld contact of Drake’s.

With Dennis’s need to survive he has crossed over to the other side where morality is left behind and the use and abuse of power has become his new M.O. In this story Dennis reluctantly agrees to carry out a local hit on a major criminal and, in doing so, he stumbles upon a clue that could help solve the recent murder of his old friend and colleague, Asif Malik, back in London. As a wanted man Dennis is put in a very tough predicament however he still decides to risk everything by returning home to find out who ordered Malik’s death and why.

I like the way M. Kernick had developed his protagonist Dennis. All through the story I found myself sympathizing and wondering whether he is good guy at heart who has been dealt a bad hand and will his luck change. The plot is action packed, fast-paced with plenty of hair raising twists. At times the action is a little far-fetched with the characters surviving impossible situations however it spices up an immensely entertaining read.

"Beastly Things", by Donna Leon

Book 21 in the Commissario Brunetti series

The appeal in this series has been the leisurely approach Commissiario Brunnetti has in solving crimes, it was refreshing to see him pick up the pace and exert himself with a lot more hands on action this time. The structure has not change a whole lot, we still experience Venice through the eyes of Brunetti and of course his wonderful family and their customs always play an important part in the staging of the mystery. This novel explores the dark side of Italy’s meat industry and covers the widespread corruption that drives it.

The mystery opens when a body of a man is discovered in a canal without any usual source of identification on him. It is his distinct medical condition that enables Brunetti and his team to eventually identify him. He is a veterinarian, separated from his wife and known to moonlight at times at a slaughterhouse. With the help of the devious Signorina Elettra, a hardened hacker, the team finds themselves slowly infiltrating the world of veterinarians and abattoirs. They soon realize there is an organised criminal side driven by human greed that may have something to do with the murder.

After reading this novel you may think twice about the food you eat and may even turn you into a vegetarian. As a counterbalance, the author adds her usual colour to the story by describing Brunetti’s leisurely lunches prepared for him by his lovely wife, pastries and pasta seems to be an Italian favourite. Ms. Leon’s characters are well developed and very believable and her plot doesn't shy away from dealing with social issues. The story is atmospheric and develops into a complex intertwining of relationships, betrayal and corrupt practices. I enjoyed the guesswork including the gruesome descriptions that came across in some of the chapters.

This is another captivating tale with Italy as a backdrop, the author’s speciality.

"Kingdom of Strangers" by Zoë Ferraris

Book 3, in the Katya Hijazi series

This is another unusual and intricate mystery giving us an insider’s view into the customs of Saudi inhabitants. It delves into the heart and lives of women in one of the most mysterious and closed societies of the world. Ms. Ferraris has created a winning combination and has given us a nail- biting and straightforward criminal investigation saga. Book 3 is part of a series featuring Saudi forensic technician Katya Hijazi, however, it can be equally enjoyed as a standalone fiction.

“Kingdom of Strangers” revolves around human trafficking and the brutal treatment of some migrant workers who are brought in from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to perform tasks the Saudis are reluctant to do.

It opens with the discovery of 19 female bodies in the desert outside Jeddah their hands have all been severed to make a strong point and make them even harder to identify. Lt. Col. Insp. Ibrahim Zahrani is assigned as the lead investigator to unravel this mystery. This is a case with such a magnitude it can make or break a person’s career.

In a sub-plot, Ibrahim is distracted by a mystery close to home, his mistress Sabria, also a former undercover operative has suddenly disappeared. As a respected Saudi resident he cannot show his feelings or his concerns without attracting attention to their relationship. His only hope is to enlist the help of Katya Hijazi, a trusted colleague, who thrives on dealing in the shadows of the Saudi justice system. She is not afraid to extend her boundaries of responsibility and risk sanctions in order to get answers. All through the story she navigates the fine line of disobedience and compliance while working on both of Ibrahim’s investigations.

The strong characterisation is the driving force behind this well written and entertaining plot. I always had a sweet spot for mysteries that are set in different parts of the world and created around customs that I am not familiar with. Ms. Ferraris is a remarkable storyteller and one of my favourite authors. This is an exotic mystery well worth reading.