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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shaken - a review

Travelling back over a span of twenty years, detective Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels finds herself as a rookie entwined in the process of tracking a sadistic killer, code named “Mr. K”. The book twists back in time twenty tears, and then in a three-year increment to the current where Jack has not only identified the killer, but with no physical proof of his committing the crimes has now retired as a police officer. It is at this moment when she finds herself ensnared and captured by the very man she has been hunting for years.

Is he a monster, a killer-for-hire or just a little of both? His routine trademarks: putting salt in the wounds and placing a ball-gag in his victims’ mouth are ever-present. However the actual deaths have been routinely different—though a few evidently are favorites from the number of times they pop back up. After all, there are only so many ways to kill over one hundred people without repeating the method.

The details are gruesome and Konrath threads the story with sarcasm as thick and liberal as a street whore’s mascara in an attempt to slice through the horror. He expertly introduces enough humor into the storyline that stops the reader from running, screaming from the torture he laces the tale with. The dialogue is expertly woven. The scene when two detectives are sitting in the car eating dry cereal from a box will have you gagging along with them.

A no-holds-barred page-turner that will capture your rapt attention until the last page

Stolen Lives - a review

During a raid on a brothel in the London suburbs, the Human Trafficking team of Scotland Yard, unearth a nest of young teenage girls from South Africa. By following a lead from a seriously beaten young girl as to a friend that was abducted and sold into private slavery the British police engage in a joint operation with their counter-parts in Johannesburg.

Mackenzie, a journalist living is South Africa, has concocted a fine thriller featuring private investigator/bodyguard Jade De Jong. Recently out of her on again off again relationship with police detective, David Patel, Jade takes what looks to be a cushy assignment watching over Pamela Jordaan, whose husband has disappeared. However when within the first hour of driving he charge an attempt is made on Pamela’s life Jade discovers that she is in for long hard haul. Pamela’s husband, a brothel owner and trafficker in people, “the third most lucrative criminal activity in the world” has many enemies. When they discover his maimed and tortured body and his daughter, who was also involved in the ‘family business’, is discovered missing Jade teams back up, in and out of bed, with Patel to discover who was responsible for shipping these young girls out to parts unknown.

Other mysterious forces are at work as the back story builds solidly to catch up with the flow of the human traffic and Mackenzie does a grand job of guiding us expertly through this dangerous world and then dropping us in the middle of mix in an effort to gather clues, along with the police investigators, to find the missing heiress of the Jo’burg porn world and discover which of the players are lying as we are left twisting and grasping at straws as the novel explodes in the final few pages.

This, not to be missed debut novel, will entertain, enthrall and enlighten and all at lightning speed.

A Song For You - a review

When heavy rains flood the streets the hilly town of Dudley, AZ the renovation behind a retaining wall unearths the body of a man long buried. When Rachael reads of the discovery she reckons it belongs to a missing member of a band that her mother, Annie, sang with; a man who disappeared just days before her mother was killed.

The accused killer, let of on a technicality, has never been guilty in Rachael’s eyes and so rather trust the police and judicial system that had ignored do many possibilities the first time out she hires a private detective, Brian Flynn to discover the truth. Flynn is aided by a former old flame, and local victim advocate, Chloe Newcombe.

The story is told through the point of view of Chloe, who fills us in very neatly on the local inhabitants of Dudley, the history of the town and leads us to discover that members of the band that Annie, then a young care-free hippy-type, fronted for are still in the area. Rachel, scared of her shadow ever since discovering her mother’s body as a young girl, takes on a voyage of personal discovery and leaving her comfortable home in Tucson and re-visits her mother’s old haunts and friends for the first time since her father removed her all those years ago.

Suddenly other bodies are discovered as the real murderer, hidden in plain view all this time, finds themselves close to be discovered, and Rachel may be in mortal danger. Can Chloe and Flynn put the pieces together fast enough before another innocent is taken? Thornton leads us through twists and turns, feeding us red-herrings and false clues at every turn in the road, in this cleverly thought-out twisting tale of mystery and mayhem.

The King of Diamonds - a review

With such a name, drawn from an illustrious heritage, one expects great things. No magical tales here, no golden rings or underground caves, however we do find our share of monstrous Nazis, hidden diamonds and damsels in distress.

The tale, set in Britain in 1960, has Inspector Trave of the Oxford constabulary investigating two murders at Blackwater Hall, both allegedly committed by young David Swain, the jilted lover of young Katya. The first murder was the new boyfriend, out of jealousy and the second, for which Swain had to breakout of prison to commit, the revenge killing of Kaya herself.

Trave, who is the lead detective, refuses to remove himself from the investigation even though the owner of Blackwater Hall is now courting his soon to be ex-wife and indeed seems to be going out of his way antagonize the family. This period tale reads more like England in the stilted era of the thirties more than the country of loosening mores of the sixties. Without the references to the happenings of Nazi Germany one might be forgiven to think they where reading about circumstances after the Great War, however in no way does this period-mixing detract from the grand storyline that has Tolkein sweeping us away with its telling.
With a trail of blood diamonds from Antwerp, two Jewish brothers seeking the truth of what happened to their parents and a trail that leads to the concentration camps of Mechelen, Belgium, Tolkien leads us on the familiar and mysterious path of deceit, revenge and betrayal.

Three Seconds - a review

As Scandinavia becomes the home of the next bestseller, these Swedish authors make their mark in the growing market. One, a former, award-winning journalist the other, an ex-con put their heads together to write a grim look into the life of the rat—a criminal under the pay of the police to become turncoat against others in the underbelly of society.

Piet Hoffman is one such informant. Recruited the day he left jail after a petty crime and now finds himself in deep-cover with the Polish mafia. When he agrees to go back in jail to take over the heroin sales and to eliminate the opposition, life takes a turn for the worse. Initially having to lie to his family was bad, but when his cover is blown within the first week by the very cops who stood by and promised to protect him, Hoffman finds himself on the run within the confines of the walls he is incarcerated behind.

He takes hostages and sets himself up for an unusual escape in order to confront his betrayers. Homicide detective Ewert Grens—a bull-dog of a cop who hangs onto to the crimes he investigates and worries them to death—is investigating a murder Hoffman witnessed prior to going undercover. Grens digs up clues that lead him to Hoffman and to the truth behind the betrayals, but will he turn against the police force to help rescue the life of an undercover con?

Hoffman, to his credit, is a very careful man. He has planned for every eventuality so when all starts to go wrong his plan is in place and his three-second window of opportunity—from the book’s title—is amply played out. Of course, he did not share those plans with you, my dear reader and so you are left to assume and wonder until the very last play is made.

This ranks up there with the ultimate police procedurals and thrillers and is an absolute page-turner.

Last to Fold - a review

Former KGB operative, Turbo Vlost, landed in New York City running a one-man investigative company, or as he so eloquently states, “No company, just me. I get paid to find things.”

He has spent his entire post-KGB career staying away from the two sons of his mentor, the man who rescued him as a teenager from the brutal life of the Soviet Gulag, his surrogate father. The two men he avoided run the Russian mob, one still in Russia and the other in Brighton Beach, NY. Their paths have not crossed in the past twenty years until he discovers that his current client, a man whose daughter appears to have been kidnapped, is also married to Turbo’s ex-wife.

As the layers of deceit are peeled back Turbo once again finds himself on the wrong side of his former rival who in turn had also been married to Turbo’s ex-wife. When his own son, a young man who Turbo has not seen since early childhood, is threatened to keep him in line Turbo finds himself working with the United States Attorney’s office to help bring down his current and once former enemy, while managing to help his current client happy too.

Joining the long line in the popular anti-hero movement Duffy brings us a relentlessly violent look at life, showing the influence wielded in this country by America’s former enemies since the cessation of the Cold War and the decline of the Berlin Wall. From guns, drugs and espionage we get the full gambit in the fast and furious look within the Russian mob.

Testarossa - a review

A hard-hitting, flawed protagonist, an all-important back-story that twists serpentine-like through the plot, and an ability to expertly entwine a foreign language throughout the novel without having to translate every expression, but still present her case, all help Dolcemaschio implant her red-headed, Italian cop into your world.

Elmore Leonard’s character in justified, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, is portrayed as an angry individual, but he has nothing over John Testarossa, a rage-filled man, dark and brooding. From the back-story, we pick up snippets of his past as the child of a New York cop, a father who was shot and killed after being accused of being on the take. Testarossa is revenge-filled, always searching for the version of what he would like the truth to be.

In this debut novel, we are introduced to Testarossa on his new beat. He and his partner, Alex Ortiz, are called upon to solve a murder case involving a bunch of frat boys from the university row team. When the body is discovered and it turns out to be the coxswain, several of his room-mates and college team-mates come under suspicion, especially when they all seem to be caught up in a conspiracy involving illegal steroid use. The team coaches and doctor all seem to harbor their own secrets.

To complicate his life, Dr. Karen Gennaro, a local physician who always seems to be around whenever Testarossa or his detainees need stitching up—which is quite frequently—catches his attention, and Dolemaschio captures the romantic interludes in stride. Don’t be deceived, this is not your romantic-thriller genre. This is a down and dirty police procedural with all the blood and guts and all the bloody violence that drags you along into the streets. This non-stop brawl spills over from the street to the bedroom in this fast-paced tale that draws from today’s headlines for a feel of reality.

I was so affected by the story that I actually called the author—something I rarely do—to express my excitement for her work and to interject my thoughts. She was most gracious. She assures me there will be a sequel, for which I was eternally grateful. I need to know more about John Testarossa.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Double Play - a review

Although many books and movies have been made covering the sad events that happened on that day I have not seen one, until now, that was written covering an in-depth look at the life of Dan White. Most points of view are portrayed from the story of Harvey Milk and his rise to fame as the first nationally-elected homosexual. “Double Play” not only provides an historical expose at how Moscone, San Francisco’s mayor, and Milk, a city supervisor, fit into the political stage of San Francisco thirty years ago, but gives us insight into the up-and-coming newcomer on the political arena, Dan White.

White, a hard-working, God-fearing young man of Irish descent had grown up in the Bay area and worked in both San Francisco’s police department and fire department. He was well-liked and used these relationships as a spring-board to get elected as a city supervisor. He arrived on the scene ready to take on the world, knowing he could make changes but ran head-long into the political machine that was City Hall and quickly became disenfranchised.

Weiss, a former journalist who covered the killing and trial, then leads us on a trip through White’s life and allows the reader to examine the trials and tribulations of home life, the depression that wracked Dan White that very few folks, other than close friends and family, where privy too. Weiss follows up his storyline with an unforgettable ending. As conversant as I was with the circumstances that happened that day, I was completely caught unaware with this dramatic ending as my interest in the affair waned after the trial occurred. You will want to read this highly entertaining version of the drama that is “Double Play”.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blood Stains - a review

After their father’s funeral they buried him near dear Momma’s grave. Maria,Savannah and Holly expected to inherit the ranch in Montana. What they did not expect was the video Andrew Slade left for the three of them. In it, the trio learned that not only were the parents they had known not their actual parents,but they had never officially been adopted and that they were not sisters either!

What they just learned was made clearer by the diary their father kept for each of them detailing the reasons each child had been left with him and who their real parents had been. He had been a travelling preacher in a past life and accumulated the girls from parents who, for some reason or another, had fallen upon such difficult times that is was wiser to separate themselves from their child than to put that child’s life in danger.

Maria’s mother had been a hooker who was murdered when the little girl was only four. The child witnessed the killing, but had been removed from the scene of the crime by do-gooder neighbors  and blocked out all memory of that awful day. Now with her father’s death she took off to find out more about her mother only to discover that the murder had never been solved. After arriving in Tulsa, OK she began ferreting into her mother’s past and that past caught up with her sooner than she expected.

When her life is threatened and she ends up in hospital after a bomb planted under her car by a thug-for-hire explodes, the Tulsa police department takes what appeared to be an unsolved cold-case a little more seriously. What Maria did not count on was falling in love with Bodie Scott, the handsome cowboy homicide detective.

Sala treats us to romantic mystery al a Nora Roberts style as a challenge to be the headliner in her genre. “Blood Stains” evoked the right number of chuckles, tears and edge of your seat thrills to make this a major hit.

Fatal Error - a review

Computer dating takes a new twist, in Jance’s “Fatal Error”. Richard Lowensdale is a despicable man who preys on vulnerable women in an online dating scam. Using fake names he has several fiancĂ©s around the country until he becomes bored with their particular neurosis and cuts loose, usually dropping them right after he has had them pick out their engagement rings. When he is murdered and several of his girl friends suddenly show up at the same time to check on him, there are suspects aplenty.

The protagonist, wealthy widow, former Los Angeles TV news anchor and aspiring cop, Ali Reynolds finds herself smack in the middle of the investigation when a former colleague, now down-on-her-luck recovering alcoholic, Brenda Riley goes missing. Brenda had been the target of Lowensdale’s particular cyber-sociopathic behavior and was in the process of writing an exposĂ© to blow the lid off his cover. Using her boyfriend’s security company to gather behind-the-scenes information, Reynolds teams up with over-worked homicide detective Gil Morris to ferret out the truth behind her friend’s disappearance and the death of Lowensdale.

“Fatal Error” takes us beyond just cyber-stalking to the warped mind of a victim of the Bosnian wars who applies her own sociopathic skills to gain untold wealth by dealing with cartel criminals in the drug-smuggling wars of the Mexican borders. As Reynolds and Morris discover the depths of depravity, it all boils over as they find themselves stumbling into the middle of an FBI sting in San Diego. Can they rescue Riley before she gives the ultimate sacrifice in reporting a news story, in which she has become the unwitting pawn?

Kissing Arizona - a review

Gunn ratchets it up a notch in this third novel in her series regarding her Tucson based police detective Sarah Burke as she takes on the nefarious world of people smuggling. “Kissing Arizona” is two stories blended together by Gunn’s immaculate style of writing. In a timely message for Tucson, she examines the world of the illegal,Mexican immigrants and brilliantly diagrams the problems from both sides of the border, delving into how pick-ups are made once the illegal alien reaches Arizona and discusses the underlying issues of the underworld of stowing these undocumented, migrant workers.

Young Vicky lived in Tucson as a small child coming over the border as an infant. When her father leaves and her mother gets busted and deported, Vicky is torn from her baby sister who was born in the States and so is a citizen. The younger child stays with an aunt while Vicky and her mother are sent home to Mexico. Vicky is not satisfied with her lot in life and uses her teenage wiles to get a boyfriend to aide her return to Tucson and tells him America is so grand she cannot wait to kiss the ground once she gets back to Arizona.

Meanwhile, Detective Sarah Burke has found a collection of human bones: a broken body deposited in concrete and has to hunt for the head. She and her crew of police detectives are also investigating the bloody deaths of a long-time business owner and his wife, their bodies arranged in what could be a murder-suicide until the forensic's report comes back. With two murderers to track down, Burke attempts to juggle her career, as well as the lives of her displaced niece and mother, both who reside with her, until they decide to pool resources and with help from her police  officer boyfriend, all move in together. Of course, they will need the assistance of a local cleaning firm, one that Vicky’s aunt owns and so the taut story twists in the shimmering, summer heat of Arizona.

Agent X - a review

Boyd brings us the second installment in the Steve Vail suspense catalog and I sense there are many more to come. Vail, a former FBI agent keeps being pulled back into his past occupation because he appears to be the only man for the job. Having left the special agent business behind because of problems with the management wanting him to do it their way, he seems to be intrinsically linked to any case touched by Kate Bannon.

Having left the employ of the FBI, Vail has made his living as a bricklayer, and sometime sculptor in Chicago, he finds his background in counterintelligence, coupled with a master’s degree in Soviet history, invaluable to the Bureau in their latest case, brought to them by a man known as Calculus. The offer is to turn over a list of the current spies working with the ranks of government and defense contractors in the States.

Once Calculus’ cover appears blown and the spies all seem to be getting killed ahead of the FBI getting to them, Bannon and Vail have to put their on and off again relationship on hold to discover who is behind the spy threat.

When Bannon herself is framed as a spy and jailed, it is up to Vail and a fellow agent Steve Bursaw to fi nd a way to prove her innocence.

In Boyd’s introduction to this bricklayer agent, we found him to be a sole operator and to provide him with a partner in Bursaw felt off the mark just a little. It did not take away from the urgency the story told, but perhaps humanized Vail a little more than I would have liked. If Boyd really wants Vail to be serious competition with the likes of the Jack Reachers of the novel world, he should stick with his original plan.

“Agent X” advances the reputation of Boyd as an excellent spy master and this thrill-a-minute story pulls out all stops, just as Vail does.

Past Tense - a review

In the quiet, English countryside an old lady dies in her bed at the local nursing home. Janet Wakefield receives notification—her husband Bill, who is stationed in South America by his company, is the next of kin—which is a surprise because neither of them even knew Josephine Short existed.

Sent to make the funeral arrangements, Janet discovers that all the particulars have been laid out by the decedent. The church, the hotel and “bun wrestle”, as the reception is described, and the ‘no flowers’ request are already in place. She shows up for the funeral service to find several of the local villagers: a friendly, old man who claims to have known Ms. Short, a beautiful, young lady with auburn hair and in the pew behind her, the nursing home matron as well as the attorney handling the estate. As the service starts, a tall, dark-haired, young man sits next to her on the pew reserved for family. Joe Short, the grandson.

Making the acquaintance of another family member previously unknown to them helps the Wakefields discover who Josephine Short is and where she fits into all their lives. The discovery that she is well off and has a large estate is even more confusing. When the auburn beauty’s body is found in the river under suspicious circumstances, the heirs are forced to reveal their alibis, which brings down suspicion on both of them, as well as a local thug whose mother was working at the nursing home.

When using material that Aird senses her reader may not have a complete understanding about, such as subject matter, she will have her characters ask questions to show their ignorance of the subject, which in turn edifies both the character and reader at the same time.

Aird weaves the red herrings and suspicions throughout the story, making you look back into the past pages for clues missed, words uttered that might have been a clue, a hint of foreshadowing glossed over until the pieces all fall together, making perfect sense of the tale.

Separate from the World - a review

If you switched Agatha Christie over a century and placed her in the middle of Amish country you would have “Separate from the World”, it is that type of a cozy.

Here you have Professor Michael Branden, teacher at a small town college and a native of the area, who has been best friends with the local sheriff, Bruce Robertson, since grade school. Along with another grade school buddy, Caleb Troyer, the local pastor, the trio becomes this group of investigators in a series of books that Gaus gives us, solving mysteries that involve the complexity of the Amish.

In “Separate from the World”, we meet the Erb family, and it’s descendants, that through apparent cross breeding with the families, has developed an unusual number of dwarf’s in the gene pool. The study of the genetics, blood studies and inbreeding becomes a study subject for a number of the students at neighboring at Millersburg College, and surprisingly the Erb family provides them with family history until the split in the Amish way of life is discovered and the elder forbids any further discussion with the students.

At the same time an apparent suicide of a female student opens an investigation into improprieties from another professor which opens the lead for Gaus to link her death with the controversial genetics study into the Erb family. He leads us a circuitous route, unraveling clues until the very last moment, leading to a very satisfying ending.

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