Friday, March 7, 2014
Both East Coast Don and Midwest Dave have previously reviewed books by Harlan Coben with mixed reviews, some laudatory, some just average, but I thought I’d join the parade and check him out. He’s written at least 25 novels since 1995. Fade Away is a 1996 book and the third in his Myron Bolitar series which now numbers 10 books. Fade Away won both the Edgar and Shamus awards in 1997. Bolitar is an appealing character, a former high school and college basketball star who became a first round draft choice of the Boston Celtics. But, Bolitar suffered a severe knee injury during a pre-season game and never got to play a regular season NBA game. He wasted no time going to Harvard Law School and becoming a successful players’ agent. While his knee had mostly recovered after a couple years of dedicated rehabilitation, his playing was now limited to low-level weekly pickup games, until unexpectedly, the owner of the New Jersey Dragons offered him a contract. The story was that his long-time high school and college basketball foe, Greg Downing, had disappeared. Downing, one of two superstars on the Dragons, had also been a first round pick, but he had gone on to NBA greatness. Bolitar and Downing had more in common, including Downing’s wife, who had been Bolitar’s girlfriend until they broke up shortly before the career-ending injury. The owner of the Dragons thought Bolitar was just the right guy to find Downing, and since some intrigue among the Dragon teammates in Downing’s disappearance was possible, it was thought Bolitar’s best chance to find Downing would to be on the inside, as a player.
The reader gets to work his way through the crime novel which has lots of twists and false leads. There are complimentary subplots and enough sex and violence to satisfy the average fan of crime novels. Also, there are some well-written sections on Bolitar’s thoughts and feelings about the game, from his thoughts about what might have been to the nature of the characters who were playing. Overall, I’d rate this book as a classic airplane book – one that would entertain you on a cross country flight, but not one that would interfere with a nap or break your heart if you left it unfinished on the plane. It’s a B to B+ read. I’ll probably try another Coben book, but I have a reading queue right now that is fairly long and does not include another one of his. Maybe it’s hit and miss with Coben, which is why I chose one of his award winning books, so I’m disappointed I did not have a more favorable response.
Monday, March 3, 2014
There is good news and bad news about Cyberionage by Michael P. Elias. The good news is that the plot was mostly good. The bad news, there were large sections of the novel that felt amateurish. Given the title, I expected to read about technical details of cyberspace, and I definitely got that – not that I understood all of it. But, cyberspace geeks are not known for their endearing human qualities, and Elias’ protagonoist, Moti Kidron, was not different than that, so he was a difficult figure to connect to. Emotionally, he was flat. He was impressive intellectually, and his courage was remarkable. Like so many of the heroes that we favorably review, Moti was absolute in his morals and a rebel to his authority figures, and he took remarkable risks to defend his way of thinking. It is Kidron alone who prevents WWIII from breaking out, by infiltrating every important military security system in the world, and ordering the President of the U.S. what to do in the midst of this near nuclear crisis – but was it a believable story? In the end, something was missing, and the author does not get my recommendation.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Blueblood by Matthew Iden in the second in a series of crime novels featuring Marty Singer, retired DC homicide detective. Marty’s 30 year career ended a year earlier after he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. But he can’t quite leave the job behind or the cancer either for that matter. In the previous book, A Reason to Live, Marty is called upon to protect the daughter of a murder victim. That murder was one of his old cases from twelve years earlier. Now Sam Bloch, a MPDC lieutenant in the narcotics branch enlists his help to investigate the murders of several area police officers, none from the same jurisdiction. Interdepartmental politics are complicating any joint effort to solve the murders but Bloch expects Singer can streamline the process. Meanwhile Marty learns his chemo treatments have failed to completely obliterate his cancer. Grasping at the chance to give his life purpose, Marty decides to postpone the surgery that would partially remove his colon.
Singer’s investigation starts with undercover narc officer, Danny Garcia. Garcia was shot in the head with a .22 then beaten post mortem. The other victims include a beat cop from a sketchy Southeast DC suburb, an Arlington PD officer working gang related crimes, a Montgomery County patrolman, and a Rockville, MD cop… all similarly brutalized and murdered. With little information forthcoming from the victim’s families, Singer starts poking around at the gangs in Southeastern DC. He learns that Garcia was on the take, an action that could provoke the wide reach of the Salvadorian gangs. But Garcia’s connection to the other victims is not obvious. Some other motive has to be in play. Singer stirs the pot within the various departments, within the gangs, and within the victim’s families to see what ugly secrets spill out.
OK so Blueblood is not quite the caliber of A Reason to Live, the previous Matthew Iden novel which I raved about in an earlier review... the plot not quite as clever, the prose not quite as polished, and Marty not quite as appealing. Nonetheless, it offers a credible story, a likable character and an enjoyable quick paced read… a solid performance in my estimation. I’m chalking up my mild disappointment to over expectation. As for more from Matthew Iden, I’m in.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
A Vatican priest sneaks off with a manuscript of incredible age, gets run down by a guy on the FBI watch list who ends up dying in a car wreck while fleeing the cops. Father Romano, a Vatican archivist, takes possession of the scroll and sneaks off to Paris to enlist the help of an expert in ancient texts and her linguistics professor father to interpret what's in this book that got a priest killed.
In ancient days, the 'paper' was hard to come by so it was reused over and over. With careful chemical techniques, one can drill deep into its history. What he learns is that the original writing may date back to the first century - one of the original works of Christianity. And some people don't want it coming out because what it says could shake the foundations of the Church.
In the 9th century, the Catholic church is reeling from corruption and politics. Father Johnnes, a Brit, has but one life and wants to live it by archiving as many of the old texts as possible, saving the originals as is rather than recycling the 'paper' for newer translations and interpretations.
Got this book as a Kindle freebie. My brother-in-law told me of a subscription service called BookBub.com that complies book deals (from free to $1.99) and sends out daily alerts based on your profile. This was my first. Watson's 2012 book is told in two parts; one part current and one part from the 900s, mostly the latter. We follow Father Johannes from his early days as a dirt poor parish priest to his rise to become an unwilling Pope. The current day story is about Father Romano's search for clues about not only what's in (or under) the book as well as who wants to suppress its contents. Sort of a Da Vinci Code's Robert Langdon in a cleric's collar. If you liked Da Vinci Code, this is right up your alley. I was at best so-so for that line of Dan Brown's work so I liked this better. For free, it was a reasonable diversion while I wait for the new Olen Steinhauer book this spring. But be warned, the content of the ancient writings might not be well received by some Christians much like the story line of Da Vinci Code didn't sit well either. Or just accept that this is fiction and the product of a fertile imagination and don't take the lessons too seriously.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
A Reason to Live by Matthew Iden is the first in a series of crime fiction novels featuring Marty Singer, retired DC homicide detective. Marty didn’t want to retire. He loved his job and it consumed his life for 30 years leaving him in his early 50’s without a wife or children or even a hobby to look forward to enjoying. Marty has cancer and his treatment promises to sap his physicality… make him a lesser cop. Marty can’t tolerate that so he retires planning to deal with the consequences of starting a new life if he survives the cancer.
Before his first chemo treatment, Marty is approached by a George Washington University graduate student, Amanda Lane. Twelve years earlier when Amanda was a child, her mother was murdered by a rouge DC cop, Michael Wheeler. Marty worked the case but Wheeler was acquitted through some apparent behind the scenes political influence. Marty blamed himself for his role in allowing the murderer to walk. Now years later, Amanda is being stalked… she thinks by her mother’s killer. She’s scared and doesn’t know where to turn for help so she calls Singer. He seizes the opportunity for redemption… a reason to live.
But Marty is no longer a cop. He doesn’t have access to the MPDC resources needed to protect Amanda let alone find the killer. He calls on his former partner, Kransky who is still in the police department. He engages Wheeler’s former attorney who unknown to Singer craves her own chance at redemption. Meanwhile, Marty begins his chemo treatments and is seriously hampered from his new found quest. So this trio of part time crusaders stumble through a scarcity of stale clues hoping to right a wrong and prevent further tragedy.
I’m excited about this new found author, Matthew Iden. First, I like his writing. When he describes a place it jumps out at you and makes you feel like you are there… you know exactly what he means and can picture it in your mind. Second, I like this character, Marty Singer. The guy has his own self-imposed sense of justice like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser but with a vulnerability that makes him more human. Third, Iden is self-published. I read where he gives away more copies of his books than he sells… makes me feel like I stumbled onto something. The quality of his writing is as good as any of the more prolific authors I normally read. I have two more Marty Singer books loaded on my Kindle and hear a fourth is in the works. It’s what we live for at MRB.
Monday, February 24, 2014
You've been trained as a sniper and sent to Vietnam. You were good, but a shady branch of the Army, ostensibly to investigate 'shrinkage' of materials grabbed you. The unit was actually about shrinking the number of enemy leaders. Also managed to 'shrink' a US Army officer who was aiding and abetting the enemy. That one was off the books on your own dime. Did your tours, came home, got married, went into the clothing biz with your wife and relocated from southern Illinois to California. Had a son. Did pretty well and made a fistful of money. Then divorced. Your son decides he wants to go to college back in Illinois and enrolls in SIU-Carbondale, way down there closer to KY than anyplace else.
By most definitions, living large in SoCal.
Sure there was that little flap after 'Nam with a KY loser whose family the Cade's have been feuding with for dang near 100 years. He pissed you off, but the creep died in a car-deer wreck on a back county road. That seemed like a good time to make that move to SoCal.
A new KY thug is dead. Supposedly blew himself up when the IED he was making exploded. Said IED was set to be payback for a guy who wouldn't pay protection. Evan Cade is the prime suspect. See his girlfriend was the daughter of the guy who failed to pay up and everyone figures Evan was just standing up for his girlfriend's father.
Evan Cade, son of JD Cade, businessman with a past that few know about. And still a damn good shot.
JD and Evan are stuck. A quiet Treasury Department program has framed Evan in order to blackmail JD into killing the favored candidate. Kill Franklin Delano Rawley or your son will in all likelihood be found tortured and dead, in all appearances at the hands of their sworn KY enemies, but we all know whose hand would strike the fatal blows.
After the Chicago miss, JD follows Rawley to the LA swing of stops and with a couple careful (and pricey) donations to the Rawley campaign, manages to get close to the staff and the candidate. All the while he is trying to figure out how to kill Rawley, who is pulling the strings, and what can be done to get himself out of this mess, save his son, and avoid the assassination.
OK, now let's see if I have all this straight -
mountain boy turned Army sniper during Vietnam: check
still a great shot even into his 60s: check
very clever in manipulating people and circumstances without firing a shot: check
has a child whose very safety depends on his every move: check
author/character: Stephen Hunter/Bob Lee Swagger: nope
While the backstory of JD Cade bears a striking similarity to Hunter's Swagger, old Bob Lee labored outside of prime time politics while JD is smack in the middle and doing his best to survive and save his son. My first foray into the world according to Flynn was the very readable Tall Man in Ray Bans, recently reviewed here. I liked it enough to check out another title from the library. As good as Hunter and his Bob Lee books? Nope. Good enough to want to look at more titles? You bet. It does not appear that Flynn has developed the Cade character into a series (pity), but he does have a series of political thrillers about the husband of the first woman President, which I will be exploring in the near future. Not ready for a place in the power rotation, but just might be a player 'to be named later' depending on the comings and goings of the first husband.