Old mysteries and thrillers gathering dust and adding to your clutter? Donate them to the Burrito Boyz and they'll distribute to the homeless of San Diego.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

The Inner Circle is a work of historical fiction written by T.C. Boyle. Boyle has written 14 novels, and he published this one in 2004. This is about Alfred Kinsey, the zoology professor at Indiana University who became the first great human sex researcher, his wife, and his immediate group of colleagues who followed him into this area of research where no one had dared to go before. To say Kinsey was controversial in his own time would be a vast understatement. While his intellectual achievement was not the equivalent of Freud, certainly the disputes and turmoil that he created among his colleagues was equal to the stir that Freud created in 19th and 20th century Vienna. Boyle writes from the perspective of John Milk who lied to get into Kinsey’s undergraduate class on human sexuality and then became his first and most trusted assistant.

The story starts in the late 1930s and continues until three years after Kinsey’s death in 1956. Only the characters of Kinsey, his wife Mac, and the President of Indiana University Herman Wells were real. Wells was a great defender of Kinsey’s research, or it never could have happened in that setting. There could be few more Christian, conservative and redneck settings than Southern Indiana in that era. Kinsey was a lightning rod who became an international sensation with the publication of his research. Kinsey wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). The Inner Circle was a well-written novel, titillating at the minimum. If Mary Roach can write a best selling novel called Bonk, which is a non-fiction work about the sex life of sex researches (previously reviewed in the blog), why shouldn’t Boyle take on Kinsey and fictionalize his inner circle. You can feel the struggle of his most intimate associates to try to understand and keep pace with the first pioneer into the research of human sexual activity, and you’ll appreciate Kinsey’s maniacal drive to finish his work. If the subject matter interests you, this novel is worth your time. Thanks to my sister Pam for sending me the book.

Buried Prey by John Sanford

Buried Prey is one of John Sanford’s later works in his Lucas Davenport series but herein reveals the younger, hungrier Davenport at the beginning of his career with a taste for fast cars, fine clothes and attractive women.

In present day Minneapolis, the bodies of two young women are discovered at a construction site near the university.  Davenport recognizes the bodies from his first big case twenty five years earlier.  He flashes back to his brief time as a patrolman destined for greater things.  His tenacity in the kidnap investigation gains him temporary detective status and leads him to a person of interest, a homeless schizophrenic living down by the river.  Pursuit of the suspect results in the police fatally shooting the homeless man and the kidnapping is conveniently pinned on the deceased.  But Davenport doesn’t believe the homeless guy capable of the crime yet politics and media attention demand a quick solution.  Davenport vows to find the real killer but his natural savvy in manipulating the news media and politicians in solving crime catapults his career leaving his first case a distant memory.  Now 25 years later with evidence the girls were murdered, Davenport feels his complacency may have unleashed a serial killer.  His ego fueled by regret, Davenport will stop at nothing to find the real killer.  But his family and friends worry that his unleashed obsession will make him ignore police procedure and legalities that will mar his career if not cost him his life.

Buried Prey is a good starting point for readers not so familiar with John Sanford’s prolific Lucas Davenport series.  We see the young Lucas Davenport developing his own brand of justice… following the rules where necessary but skillfully manipulating the system to get the desired results… a dangerous but effective formula.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Heist by Daniel Silva

The Heist is Daniel Silva’s 14th book in the Gabriel Allon series, all of which I’ve savored, some more than once. In this book, Allon is doing another art restoration in Venice, perhaps the last one of his career until he moves back to Israel to assume command of the Office, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. He’s avoided becoming the boss of the organization for man years, but its finally time. But, as has happened so often in the past, his restoration was interrupted, this time when he was seduced into an attempt to find a stolen masterpiece, Caravaggio’s Nativity. The reader is lead into the mysterious world of art theft and the real value of such. Necessarily, Silva also leads us into the world of international banking and the hidden movement of great wealth among banks. But, Silva has always been timely with his stories, and this one takes us to Syria and the attempts of the Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, to loot his country of all value while resisting all attempts to give up his authority. Silva referred to Assad as the Butcher of Damascus, or butcher boy in tribute to Assad’s father who was equally brutality to his own people. Silva likens Assad’s actions to those of Putin in Russia, the only regime that stood in support of Assad’s massacre of his own countrymen, and it was Putin’s insatiable quest for money that was behind the support. This story grows from an attempt to recover a lost painting to an attempt to grab most of Assad’s wealth to an attempt to save the life of a woman that Allon had used to accomplish both of his goals.

Silva is the master the international thriller. This newest book was just released this week, and if you’ve read all of his other books, put down what you’re reading now (just as I did) and jump into this one. If you haven’t read Silva, then start with The Kill Artist and know that you’ve a great adventure ahead. Since I've read them all and Silva publishes just one book a year, now I have to painfully wait until next July for the next installment. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Wicked Flee by Matthew Iden

The Wicked Flee is Matthew Iden’s fifth in his Marty Singer series.  Singer is an ex-DC cop who retired to fight his cancer.  Now a PI he uses his skill set, contacts within law enforcement and new found empathy to solve other people’s problems.

Singer’s friend and current DC police officer, Chuck Rhee pounds on Singer’s door in the middle of the night.  Rhee’s teenage sister, Lucy has disappeared and he fears she may have been abducted.  He can’t wait for the bureaucracy within law enforcement to help him find her… she could already be out of local jurisdiction.  Together Marty and Chuck roust Lucy’s former boyfriend and his pals.  After busting some heads they learn Lucy is with a dangerous dude known for sex trafficking.  Without his name they begin searching for and rousting the sex offender’s known accomplices.
Meanwhile, rookie Maryland State Trooper, Sarah Hayesworth abducts a perpetrator disposing of a young woman’s body… a sex for hire gig gone wrong.  She knows the perp can lead her to the prostitution ring but her boss makes her turn over the case to the local county sheriff.  Haunted by the prospect of young women being abused, she decides to work the case on her own time.  Her investigation leads her to a rundown hotel used to house the hookers.  In the lobby she finds a young DC cop and an aging PI ‘pressuring’ the night clerk for information.  After learning the likely whereabouts of Lucy and her abductor, the three join forces in a sprint to the finish to save Lucy’s life.

The Wicked Flee is the fastest paced Marty Singer novel to date.  In fact the character of Marty is not expanded upon at all… you have to know him from previous works.  Instead the hook here is the chase itself… will the heroes get there in time to save the day?  I’m impressed by Iden’s skill to keep that suspense in play to the end… a true page turner.  What I do miss from Iden’s earlier work is the vulnerability factor in Marty Singer… that thing that makes him appealing and significant.  Maybe we’ll get more of that next time… I’m in either way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling is Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) first mystery novel and introduces two unlikely heroes... London PI Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott.  Strike is having a run of bad luck.  Born to a groupie mother and a rock star father who will not acknowledge him, Strike grows up a transient in poverty and joins the Army as early as possible.  He becomes a successful MP in Afghanistan but has his leg blown off up to his mid-calf and is forced to retire sooner than he would like.  He reluctantly returns to London and becomes a PI and moves in with his girlfriend.  Both his business and his relationship flounder but his pride refuses to let him blame his upbringing or his prosthetic leg.  Strike breaks up with his girlfriend and is moving into his office the same day his new temporary secretary, Robin arrives for her first day at work.  Robin immediately recognizes Strike’s pride and need for privacy which fosters an arm’s length connection between the two.

Just as Strike is contemplating closing the doors on his PI business, John Bristow arrives at his office in need of his services.  John’s adopted sister, the legendary supermodel, Lula Landry fell to her death some months earlier.  The police have ruled her death a suicide but John cannot accept that and hires Strike to investigate further.  His investigation draws him into Cuckoo’s (Miss Landry’s nickname) private life including dysfunctional family members, excessive life styled celebrities, drug rehabbed acquaintances, security providers, and news media types all hustling for something at Cuckoo’s expense.

Strike’s skilled interview style and his meticulous attention to detail combined with Robin’s curiosity and sensibility coalesce to sift through a barrage of characters with some motive to end Cuckoo’s life.  Only when the killer shows his willingness to kill again is Strike able to close in… but at what cost?

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a deep dive into the character of Cormoran Strike.  The author delves deep… perhaps deeper than we need to go… into his history letting us know who he is and what caused him to get here.  We can’t help but empathize and forgive his indiscretions as well as respect his abilities and perseverance.  Soon we begin cheering for him… hoping for the best outcome… all signs of a worthy protagonist.  I look forward to more of Cormoran Strike.  Hopefully next time we can forego some of the dry detailed character development of which we are now well informed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Sparrow Falls

At menreadingbooks.blogspot.com, we’ve already done 667 book reviews, but until now, not one by the prolific Wilbur Smith. Mostly, we read crime novels and thrillers, but historical fiction is also one of our favorite genres. This book was suggested by Karen A. Chase, an author of historical fiction, and she has promised to write the formal review of the book in the very near future, so stay tuned for that. She said this was her first Wilbur Smith novel and it was the book which set her on the course of writing in the same genre. A Sparrow Falls is the third book in an eight-book series about the Courtneys. This one starts at the end of WWI and extends through the 1920s, after the war, the story moves from France to South Africa. Smith writes with remarkable prose, and his characters are alive and real. This 630-page book kept me in it’s grip and I’m immediately moving Smith into my power rotation. I’m glad I don’t have to kick anyone off my island of favorite authors because it is starting to get crowded – and Smith belongs there. He’s written 33 novels, so shame on us for not getting to him any sooner. I’ve already acquired the first novel in this series, “When the Lion Feeds,” and now I’ll take on Smith in the order that he wrote his books. This is wonderful literature. Ms. Chase has led me into a treasure of novels. Thank you, and I await your review.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Curtain by Patrick Ord

You don't know Henry Maddox, but he knows you.

Dr. Maddox is just a marketing prof at Berkeley who has managed to apply what he knows into a most lucrative consulting business. Companies hire him to show them how to leverage their product or service into megabucks and his clients regularly populate the Fortune 500 list. Henry presents any number of erudite theories of economics and marketing to a company's management team, telling them that 'households' may be a key unit of measurement for a business, but also how 'fragmentation' of the household can extend their market to be so specialized that they can target campaigns that  manipulate consumers into opening up their wallets. Within any 'household' are the husband/father/AlphaMale/etc.; there are 3 markets right there if targeted right. How about the wife/mom/soccer mom/sex kitten/cook, etc. Then there are the teenage boys/girls/jock/nerd/outcast/goth/yadda yadda yadda. And if the company can get into a divorced family, well, that doubles everything. And he hasn't even gotten to Cross Promotion and Conglomerate Propagandizing. Ah, but the real golden goose is to find out which users could be swayed to join online gambling and pornography sites - that's some real money.

All the company has to do is learn how to gather, collect, analyze, and interpret personal data that the wishy washy consumer is all too willing to turn over in order to get a pass into the next level of some video game. Then,  it's a simply click or two to put a cookie on every user's computer to tell the company every website visited, all their social network contacts, their address book, their spending habits, everything.

And that's where the fun begins. At least as defined by Henry Maddox. Sure he charges the company an arm and a leg, but he also negotiates the rights to access said company's data on their users making his predictive models all the more powerful that he'll use with the next company to drive their profits even higher. And all Henry really wants is their data . . . and a check.

Henry's world gets turned upside down when Laroy Eldon, head of a pro-family group, makes a play to try and show Henry the error in his way. That what he does in driving wedges into families and society that just keep getting deeper and deeper. People aren't products that can be moved around to meet some real or manufactured demands.  His longtime business partner threatens to quit because she sees the value in Laroy's arguments. And Pressley, an impressionable student, wants to volunteer at Henry's company until her enthusiasm to expose a predatory gaming company puts her into a mess because that company is one of Maddox's clients.

Well, if all that makes this book sound like a God awful dry discourse into economic theory, consumerism, and mass marketing, you'd be denying yourself an excellent peak behind the curtain of how mega business tries to pry our hard earned money out of our pocket. In an era where privacy protection is a top policy issue, consumers are more than willing to hand over, willingly, all kinds of information simply by clicking a mouse on a link that targets a weakness predicted by Henry Maddox's models.

This really should be required reading for anyone who goes online for ANYTHING so everyone can see just how pervasive this data gathering has become. For a first-time author, Ord has told us way more than corporate America ever wanted us to know. Ok, the writing may be a bit amateurish and the dialogue a touch too clean and perfect while we end up feeling like we are being lectured to, but in this form of entertainment, how else are you going to get this kind of info across to a reader? This is a really fast read and what you learn (what? learn from a novel? yes . . . learn) will stay with you and should resonate every time you click on a hyperlink.

East Coast Don