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Monday, August 16, 2010

The McNaughton Rule - A review

Perhaps at work people have told you that you tell a good story. You could write a novel about it they say. Well someone must have told that to Tim McClure too. He has taken all those pub stories about life on the force and written a book. ‘You could be the next Joesph Wambaugh,’ someone probably said. And, ‘gosh your wife is an editor for a newspaper she can help edit your book, help save on the cost.’

Well, Tim McClure and Mary Dieter did just that. He strung together a series of war stories, using the political scene in Indiana as a background. McNaughton, the protagonist is believable, as is his wife Renee, the newspaper reporter (gee how cute they are modeled after their real-life jobs). The main crime is grisly and effective. Unfortunately it never quite gels. Once Dieter starts the editing we lose something; it takes something out instead of adding to the story becoming almost juvenile at times.

When we get to the court room scenes, McClure, now an attorney having retired from life as a police office in Indianapolis is efficient, informative and knowledgeable. Just as I was about to totally write this off as a novel—it becomes whiny and preachy at times; a gripe about life in staid, old Indiana, we’ve reached about page three hundred—suddenly McClure starts to make stuff up; real fiction not just old stories from his past. Now we have a novel, now we have hope and as McNaughton and his crew of homicide detectives search frantically for one of their own, an officer missing for several days, this becomes a page turner. Like most true-life based, crime dramas, happy endings are never anticipated and this one is no different, though there is a twist in the end that makes this one worth hanging in for the final chapter.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Widow's Letter to Bin Laden

London is reeling from the latest suicide bomb attack launched by terrorists. The Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal football club, has been blown to smithereens during the last game of the season on May Day. Within hours the surrounding streets of the city are closed, bridges across the Thames heavily policed and all traffic along the river terminated in case of additional attacks.

Over the next few weeks the death toll grows to over one thousand as England mourns her dead. Prince William tours the ward at Guy’s Hospital where many of the survivors of the bombing are hospitalized while top, government officials hide behind their advance knowledge of the attack.

“Incendiary” is narrated as a letter to Obama by a widow of a police officer, killed at the game that he took their four-year old son to. As she grieves she writes a letter advising Bin Laden of all he is responsible for. The story told with the grim humor of the British working class often delights in it’s madness and alternatively brings tears as she bravely tackles her new world, alone and with some degree of insanity.

The awfulness of the story and its proximity of London often reminded me, in its wonderful deliberate descriptive passages, of Chris Obani’s novella “Becoming Abigail”. When she describes the aftermath of the blast, the tower of smoke arising from the rubble as “angry and urgent like it was late for something” we feel the heat and smell the fumes. Her poignant description of her child as “boy is a good smell it is a cross between angels and tigers” you can understand the fierce love she has for her son.

Cleave’s debut novel leaves one spell-bound as he takes us along for the mad dash on to Lambeth Bridge and tramples us over the edge into the river and immerses us in his break-through thriller.

Stone's Fall - A British novel

In a span covering eighty-five years the story of Stone’s Fall moves backwards in time gradually filling in the missing pieces in this masterful novel of industrial espionage, war-mongering, international banking and, finally, tragic love.

The pre-World War One storyline is reminiscent of the mystery and suspense so aptly covered by John Buchan in Thirty Nine Steps as, by trial and error, newspaper reporter Matthew Braddock begins the quest of a dead man to find his missing child. Stone, the deceased, left a tidy sum in his will to the unknown child and his wife, Elisabeth, commissions Braddock to unravel the mystery in order to put the estate to rest.

Pears leads us on a jolly-good romp throughout England and finally throughout Europe to discover the heir to the Stone estate. His voyage of discovery unravels a life of high-stakes financial finance, munitions manufacturing and corruption.

One quickly learns that in the life of this blue-blooded British couple nothing is as it seems. Is Elisabeth really a Hungarian courtesan, why was Stone visiting the medium, Madam Boniska and exactly what information does Henry Cort have over all of them that inspires such dread? Braddock is lucky to come out of the inquiry with his life. Never before has the life a banker been so full of reckless adventure, trickery and passion.

“Stone’s Fall” challenges you on all levels and presents a modern author’s, well-rounded look at history, romance, family secrets and espionage.

Without Warning - A Review

“Without Warning” By John Birmingham

American armed forces are massed in Kuwait in preparation for the invasion of Iraq when news reach field commanders that a force-field of unknown origin, in the form of a energy cloud has descended on the North American continent. Most of Canada, Mexico and all but the western city of Seattle and the states of Alaska and Hawaii are rendered immobile. Further inspection from close quarters, via drone flights show that all living creatures in the cloud are dead, the bodies evaporated as in a demonic rapture.

Five million Americans are left rudderless around the world as the Arab countries dance in the streets now that the Great Satan is leaderless. As the word spreads about the loss of American leadership, the world is affected by its own struggles for power. South American dictatorships take control of the Panama Canal to control shipping of oil and supplies, engaging in war with combined U.S. and Cuban forces off of Guantanamo Bay, as Australia and New Zealand prepare to take in American refugees that can make it to their shores. Israel uses nuclear weapons to maintain control in the Middle East, France is in the midst of a civil war, with several terrorist factions roaming Paris, picking off all-comers and England becomes a prison camp in an effort to cleanse the country of the ethnic groups that have supported terrorism in the Middle East.

John Birmingham’s protagonist is America, everywhere it can be found. Starting from the journalist embedded with the armed forces in Kuwait to the city engineer trying to keep the lights on in Seattle. And continuing on with the covert agent in mid-mission in the streets of Paris, to the general cut off from reinforcements in Cuba and the gun-runner, off-shore in his yacht and to the Texas lawyer vacationing in Hawaii. As the story moves towards its thrilling, inevitable showdown, each member of the protagonist force has an influence on the outcome of tomorrow’s world.

The conflict and tension on every page escalate in such a powerful way that they provide the type of rising action that will keep you spellbound through to the final word. Sit back and ride the bumpy rollercoaster as thrill after spill brings fear, revulsion, outrage and relief to your shell-shocked system.

2 In The Hat

“2 in the Hat” By: Raffi Yessayan

Yessayan introduces a complicated police procedural divided into three parts. He pulls on experience in the district attorney’s office in Boston to guide us through the various districts that make up the Emerald District. His characters and story are utterly believable as the passionate dark side of the serial killer is unleashed on the police and the reader.

The story follows the outline of a Pattersonesque thriller; short chapters with occasional inserts to provide clues to the anonymous Prom Night Killer. A very effective method, however the lack of a central protagonist to the story left me a little confused until the third section. The mix of point of views makes it so complex that I had to spend time flipping back to try to recall where the pieces fit to keep the many characters straight.

Just when you think you know who did it I guaranty a new clue will leave your head spinning. Once the story takes off in part three it really finds its pulse and surges ahead to bring a climactic ending that will leave you scrambling to keep up.

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