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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke

Wayfaring Stranger is James Lee Burke’s 33rd novel, all of which have been written between 1965 and 2014, and we at MRB have reviewed most of them. This one is not from the Dave Robicheaux series, nor one of his other series. It’s a freestanding novel, and at 77 years old, Burke says it is the most autobiographical novel that he has written. He also writes that it is his best book ever, which is one hell of a claim considering the quality of his work. I’ve loved so many of his other works, but maybe he’s right about that.


The books begins in 1934 when Weldon Holland, as a child, has an encounter with Bonnie and Clyde. The story follows Weldon through grisly battles in World War II and into the death camps as the Germans were fleeing, and it was there that he discovered the woman who would become his wife. Burke follows these two heroic characters through their lives back in Texas where Weldon and his Army buddy get into the pipeline business. This is a crime novel, but not the sort that Burke has usually written. He writes of anti-Semitic Texas oil barons and the characters that surround them. It’s a love story and a family story. It is historical fiction. Burke’s writing style, character development, subplots, and dialogue is as good as anyone. This is the masterwork of a master storyteller. My advice, buy this one.


Click here to buy Wayfaring Stranger on Amazon

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Purgatory by Ken Bruen

Purgatory is Ken Bruen’s 10th Jack Taylor novel, and I am a great fan of his writing and this main character. I’ve read them all. As usual, Taylor operates out of Galway, Ireland, and it becomes his task to solve a serial murderer’s killing spree. However, as much as plot, Bruen's books are about life. Bruen’s descriptions of the town and culture are priceless. As well as any author that I’ve read, Bruen captures the struggle with addiction as Taylor wrestles with those demons. Bruen’s writing style is unique in terms of his sentence and paragraph structure, as well as where he locates words on the page for emphasis. Bruen provides an experience that engages the reader in ways that most authors cannot. This one gets my highest recommendation.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon

Friday, September 12, 2014

Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child

Personal is Lee Child’s 19th Jack Reacher novel and may be his best yet.  In it, Reacher takes on two foes superior to him at two of his most competent skills, long range sniper shooting and street fighting.

A sniper has taken a long range shot at the president of France in Paris.  So long range that the list of suspects can be narrowed to three- an American, a Brit and a Russian.  The American, John Kott was recently released from a 15 year stint in prison.  Reacher put him there.  So, Reacher is called out of retirement to find Kott and put him away... again.

Reacher is teamed with a young female CIA operative, Casey Nice and they are flown to Kott’s home in rural Arkansas.  There they find evidence that Kott has been practicing his skill from fourteen hundred yards but the sniper is long gone.

The next stop is Paris where Reacher meets his British and Russian counterparts to study the scene of the crime.  The spot where the rifle was fired is exactly fourteen hundred yards from where the French president was standing.  Only a bullet proof shield saved him.  While the three investigators are lined up in a row examining the sniper’s shooting post, the Russian’s head explodes, taken down by a sniper from over a thousand yards away.  Reacher surmises the bullet was a miss clearly aimed at him not the Russian.  Now he is certain Kott is the shooter and knows it’s personal.

The next scheduled public appearance of the French president is at the G8 in London in a few days… obviously all the G8 leaders will be there.  So Reacher and Ms. Nice are off to London where they are escorted by an MI6 (British CIA) operative named Bennett.  MI5 (British FBI) has narrowed the likely location of the sniper to two London gangs, one is local (Romford Boys) and the other is Serbian.  Reacher quickly deduces Kott is staying with the Romford Boys’ leader and is not planning to fire on the G8 summit… he’s laying a trap for Reacher.  The gang’s leader and enforcer is Little Joey… six eleven, over three hundred pounds, and built for fighting.  So Reacher must more or less single handedly, take down this Goliath in order to subjugate his sniper foe.  In doing so, he hopes to find out who really is behind this flurry of violence.


Personal is Lee Child at his personal best.  He uses his iconic protagonist Jack Reacher to fascinate us.  Reacher is an off the grid avenging drifter made irresistible by his self-proclaimed sense of justice and selfless courageous defense of the defenseless… no police, judge or jury necessary.  We are intrigued how he can calmly and quickly, size up his foe making split second but precise assessments that inevitably stack the deck in his favor.  After nineteen installments, these Jack Reacher stories just never get old.  Child is a master of this genre. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Black Flagged by Steven Konkoly


On a typical summer night up and down the east coast, eight prominent Muslims living in the US are murdered. Mostly businessmen. Within about an hour, the FBI’s Taskforce HYDRA no longer has anyone to watch. This taskforce had been working for a couple years doing the painstaking work of tracking the flow of Muslim money from the US being laundered and funneled into Al Qaeda. And these 8 victims were suspected of being the traffickers of millions. The quiet life in the greater Portland, Maine area is about to come to an abrupt halt for financial analyst Daniel Petrovich and his wife Jessica.

General Terrence Sanderson, US Army (ret.) used to run an off the books outfit for the Pentagon called Black Flag. That’s the term spy agencies use to identify bad guys targeted for execution. And his unit was good, really good. They’d taken out leaders of organizations unfriendly to the US all over the world, most recently in the former Yugoslavia. Problem in that some do-gooder found out about Black Flag and informed Congress. To avoid the publicity, Black Flag was shut down, Sanderson retired under suspicious circumstances and the operatives mostly tried to go home and live ordinary lives. Problem is that most had done some pretty bad things using some even worse methods.

Daniel gets a call from Sanderson. One job. Quick. Local. Then come down to DC for a meet. Daniel knows that if he does the job, he’ll have to go completely off the grid and that includes leaving Jessica, which he isn’t happy about. Not one bit.

As Daniel heads to DC, some adroit detective work by both the FBI and the CIA have tracked Daniel to Baltimore and start to close the net around him. But old skills die hard and Daniel escapes multiple attempts at his capture eventually meeting the reclusive Sanderson who has a proposition.

Consider this book to be the back story to a series of books about Black Flag by Konkoly. And if the next ones are a slickly presented as this one, it should be one helluva ride. This would’ve been another one sitting book if life hadn’t interfered. The story jumps quickly and smoothly between the FBI, CIA, and Pentagon in DC to Baltimore, West Virginia, Connecticut, Boston, and Maine as the chase accelerates and the noose tightens, but never quite catches Daniel. Some of the strings pulled by Sanderson might be a bit hard to fathom, but as Johnny Carson used to say about some of his rapidly failing bits, “buy the premise, buy the bit.” And if you buy the premise, the payoff comes in the numerous reveals as the author ties up the story. This is my first book by Konkoly, which is surprising considering the body of work he’s published is right up my alley, especially a series he has on what can only be considered as being about apocalyptic preppers. That sounds interesting too. The guy’s got about a dozen novels, novellas, and singles and the idiots who manage purchasing at my county library have seen fit to buy not a single title. Aggravating, indeed. I’ll find more. Count on it.

ECD

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is Danish author Peter Hoeg’s third novel, written in 1992. This was made into a thriller movie in 1997 with Julia Ormond in the lead role of Smilla Jasperson. Did you know that Greenland, originally a colony of Demark, is now an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark? I didn’t either. The natives of Greenland, Inuits, have lived in this inhospitable climate since the 13th century. As a result of Denmark’s involvement, many Inuits have migrated to Denmark where there are not looked on favorably as very rural people in the U.S. have some trouble assimilating into big city life. The story is interesting in it’s exploration of the societies in Denmark and Greenland, about which I knew so little.

This is a murder mystery that begins with the unexplained death of 6-year-old Isaiah, a kid who was terrified of heights, who jumped to his death from the roof of his apartment building. Isaiah’s mother, a full Inuit, was a drunk, and it was not unusual for the child to be left alone. The author wrote, “They say that people drink a lot in Greenland. That is a totally absurd understatement. People drink a colossal amount.” Smilla, who was half Inuit and had moved to Copenhagen at the age of 7 when her mother died, did not buy that this was a suicide, but the police were uninterested in pursuing this matter. With no standing as an investigator, Smilla stirred up trouble with people who wanted to keep the reason for Isaiah’s death a secret. The investigation took her into secret corporate files and an investigation into Danish expeditions that had occurred in Greenland.


I was past the 50% mark of this book when I chose not to read it further. The story line, at least for me, just bogged down and I lost interest. I found myself not being so interested in Smilla’s character and those characters with whom she interacted. Still, the premise of this book is a good one.

To Buy Smilla's Sense of Snow on Amazon, click here

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Turning Angel by Greg Iles

Using the murder of Kate Townsend as the centerpiece of this story, although there is actually more than one murder that occurs, Greg Iles boldly wades into typically forbidden territory – the sexual attraction between high school girls and older men. Kate was one of those beautiful and talented high school seniors who was headed to Harvard, “the start of the senior class,” but she also had a dark side. She had pursued a sexual encounter with the famous and handsome local doctor, Drew Elliott, who was most unhappy in his marriage. Who was really responsible for the seduction? Iles handles that matter with sensitivity and skill by using his protagonist, Penn Cage, as the counterpoint to Drew. Of course, after Kate’s death and the news of her relationship with Drew and her pregnancy, it is Drew who is accused of the murder. Did he really kill her when he found out about her dark side?

Iles leads us into the drug culture in the South. He takes us through the startlingly different world that faces high school students today. He notes the freedom and information that high school kids now have compared to what was experienced by those of us who are a bit older. Some of us fought for those freedoms and now watch our children struggle to manage them. Iles writes of the dilemma by having a high school student, Mia Burke, who was an integral part of the story, deliver her graduation valedictorian’s speech:

“Don’t get me wrong, I like freedom. But you can have too much of a good thing. At some point you have to draw a line, agree on some rules, or all you have is chaos. Anarchy. So I guess what I’m saying tonight is this: That’s our job, guys. Our class, I mean. And our generation. To figure out where freedom stops being a blessing and starts being a curse. Our parents can’t do it. They don’t even understand the world we live in now. Maybe that job can’t even be done for a society. Maybe it’s an individual decision in every case. But it seems to me that humans given absolute freedom don’t do a very good  job of choosing limits.”


Turning Angel is the third Penn Cage novel by Greg Iles that I’ve read, and I’ve already acquired his next, Natchez Burning. You can see that I’m impressed with these murder mysteries. His character development, plot and subplots are excellent. So far, there are six books in the Penn Cage Series, and Iles has written a number of other books that I’ll probably get to. No doubt, Iles belongs in my power rotation of authors, no matter who he might crowd out of my top ten authors.


Buy Turning Angel: A Novel (A Penn Cage Novel) on Amazon!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cavalry Man: The Killing Machine by Ed Gorman

Noah and David Ford were raised in the south but fought on opposite sides in the Civil War. After the war, Noah became a US Army Investigator while David moved to the Montana territory where he chased women and dealt in arms sales. David has an early generation Gatling gun that he has re-engineered to improve its performance considerably. He is promising 30 guns to the highest bidder.

David and his new toy haven’t escaped the attention of the US Army so Noah is dispatched with the hope that the blood connection will help sway David to deal with the Army and not just the highest bidder, of which David has representatives of four interested buyers.

Noah spies on a demonstration and is impressed so he decides to surprise David by dropping in after the audience has returned to town to work out their bids. But when Noah gets down to the barn that houses the gun, his world explodes in a shower of bullets that could only come from a Gatling gun. Wounded in his shoulder and after working up the strength, he crawls into the barn to find David’s throat slashed, lying in a lake of blood, and the gun gone.

Noah gets patched up and spends a day or two in the town hospital. He meets the local marshal and works out a cagey partnership to find out who killed David and then to find the gun. And he starts snooping around the prime spots for information like the saloon, livery, and barber shop.

MRB friend Charlie Stella made a pitch for Gorman on his blog not long ago and the Knuckmeister is usually right on target with his recommendations. Now my partner in the venture also took the bait and chose a Gorman book and didn’t like it. Must've been the choice of titles. Turns out The Killing Machine is part 1 of 3 about The Cavalry Man (assume that’s Noah Ford) and I kind of liked it. Some might say it resembles an old Agatha Christie novel where there are dozens of suspects, each with reason to be the killer, until the book's detective sorts it all out in a big reveal at the end (yeah, but this has a lot of shooting, too). The writing is as sparse as the trees on the far western prairie of Montana making the setting easy to picture while reading. I could see Noah as the grandfather of MRB fav Joe Pickett in his view of right and wrong or his strong and quasi-silent nature. If not Pickett, then maybe Walt Longmire. Either works. Gorman is a Spur Award winner for western fiction as well as Shamus and Anthony awards for his work, so he's got the chops. I’ll look for parts 2 and 3 of this series and get back to you. 

East Coast Don