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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Radiant Angel by Nelson DeMille

The Diplomatic Surveillance Group is a contract arm of the FBI. The job is simple. Watch diplomats that the FBI is curious about and report back what/where/when said diplomat is doing. Depending on the mark dictates the extent of the surveillance. 

John Corey, former NYDP detective, former Joint Anti-Terrorist Task Force, and probably 'former' a couple other corners of law enforcement, is now a part of the DSG and in charge of a team watching Vasily Petrov of the Soviet mission to the UN. Supposedly he's part of the mission's HR office. But given that his daddy is part of the old KGB and Vasily is a Colonel with lots of lethal experience in Chechnya, it's not likely he's logging hours and checking employee benefits. 

It's a Sunday morning in September. John has a new trainee with him, Tess Faraday, and they sit in their Blazer outside of the Soviet mission offices. Got a couple more agents in another car and more on foot. A car and driver are idling in front of the offices waiting for Petrov to go somewhere, anywhere. When Petrov appears, another HR underling (Viktor Gorsky, a known compatriot of Petrov and skilled assassin) and an unknown third looked to be dressed for a late summer beach party. Photos are taken and relayed back to John's bosses to ID the third guy.

Now these diplomats are limited to a 25 mile radius from the mission offices and when the car crosses over to Long Island and keeps driving, everyone's radar becomes more sensitive. This little line of cars heads far east out toward the Hamptons eventually entering the estate of Georgi Tamorov, one of those Russian oligarchs who got obscenely rich with the fall of the Soviet Union. And it is a party. Lots of Russians, prostitutes, loud music, booze, sun, and sand. The third guy is ID'd as a Dr. Urmanov, Russian nuclear physicist who, by the way, managed to enter the US under an alias.

Corey is the very definition of an 'ask for forgiveness, not permission' type and routinely acts by the seat of his pants (and probably why he has 'former' multiple times on his resume). The party is being catered so he and Tess corner the caterer into hiring two more employees for the day. The DSG is to surveil and not lose the target, so he needed to get on the property.

The party goes along for the day, but Petrov, Gorsky and Urmanov are sitting off and not socializing or drinking, the latter of which apparently is highly unusual for a Russian. Around sunset, an unmarked amphibious vehicle rolls up to the beach. The now three persons of interest board along with about a dozen of the ladies.

Supposedly headed for another party. This time aboard the massive luxury yacht belonging to a Prince of the Saudi royal family. But John's charge is to surveil and not lose his subject, so he calls on the local harbor police to search for the boat and it's destination, but it just disappears and the lineup of ships queueing up to enter New York harbors presents John with a needle in the haystack quandary especially when the yacht turns off all electronics and identity beacons effectively going dark to all authorities.

By the way, that Dr. Urmanov is an expert in miniaturizing electronics and things controlled by those miniature electronics.

I love DeMille and have read a number of his books over the years, mostly pre-blog. DeMille's not a member of the book-a-year club so when something new is released, it's probably worth the wait. He wrote what I think is one of the best espionage books ever, The Charm School (a must read for lovers of the genre). This is about #5 in his John Corey series and Corey is one of the more fascinating continuing characters going. A lovable cad who has no filter whatsoever with friends and foe alike. He says what we all wish we could think quick enough to say and acts decisively from gut instinct that only an NYPD detective can.

When I saw DeMille had a new book out, a Corey book at that, I quickly reserved it from the library. But with most every DeMille book, I hold my breath when I finally get it because DeMille has a history of these 600+ page monsters. But this one, at a brisk 308 pages, is practically a novella by DeMille's standards. And the 308 pages takes Corey from mid morning Sunday toward a 846am Monday deadline. Take my advice. Clear out a day or two for this book because you're not likely to be engaged in much else. DeMille tells one helluva a story that damn well better never happen.

East Coast Don

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lethal Code by Thomas Waite

Where would we be without the Internet and the rest of our power grid? What would happen if it was here today and gone tomorrow? Just like turning off a light switch.

A normal September Monday in the DC 'burbs. Lana Elkins, single mom, is struggling to get her 14yo daughter Emma set for school in an outfit that won't get either arrested when the lights flicker and go out in the kitchen, the house, the cul-de-sac, the neighborhood, the suburb, all of DC, the east coast . . . the entire country goes black. 

Lana isn't any ordinary soccer mom. She owns CyberFortress and does contract work for the NSA, specializing in digital security that Congress and the White House largely ignore. She knows this isn't some substation overload. Hackers. Big time hackers. Maybe even state-sponsored hackers. Trains collide, gas mains erupt, the mother of all traffic jams. Thousands die across the country. 

A Saudi-born American, Ruhi Mancur, is Director of Research at the Natural Resources Defense Council. An environmental lobby group. He is an American with no love for Islamic fundamentalists. But his cousin Ahmed, who bears a striking resemblance to OBL, is way high up in AQAP, al Qaeda Arab Peninsula and one of the most sought after terror planners by every Western intelligence agency. That blood connection puts Ruhi under the FBI's and the NSA's program of constant surveillance. After the power comes back, possible suspects to the attack include Ahmed and Ruhi's connection is blasted over the airwaves. Roving gangs of looters spot Ruhi and if not for the help of his neighbor (and wanna be girlfriend) Candace, might've been torn to pieces. Candace may be an intern on Capitol Hill, but was also an embassy guard in Afghanistan so she knows how to handle a gun. 

There is code amongst hackers: leave air travel and banks alone. The grid comes back online 24 hours to the second after all went black. An eerie voice announces across the TV feed that the last 24 hours were but a preview. In the coming days, the entire grid would not just be shut off. It would be destroyed. The US would be sent back to the 19th century and earlier. And this time, they won't be so nice. They'll cut off air travel, banking, nuclear power, but all that's just the appetizer. They also control labs around the country that house lethal viruses and the big one: the nuclear arsenal, which they've programmed to launch and hit American cities. The imminent and total destruction of America is at hand.

All that plus that the US is the primary target suggests a jihad factor. The US intelligence services round up suspects, Ruhi included, use extraordinary rendition techniques to find out what Ruhi has on his cousin. But the interrogators don't really want to know about Ahmed. They want to know what Ruhi can handle so he can be sent back to Riyadh, find his cousin and, with the help of Lana, uncover the cyber stronghold in order to hack the hackers and release control of the US networks.

Wow, that's a lot for one book. Waite starts us off with a push off a 100 mile/hour waterslide. No hope of stopping if you get going too fast. You start reading . . . and you are in. Better than our typical airplane read and if the next Lana Elkins book (Trident Code) is this good, Waite will leap into my power rotation of thriller writers. There were times when I had to remind myself to breathe. It's that gripping. Who cares if the hero isn't a walking bottle of pure testosterone. Rui, Lana, and daughter Emma, are as tough as they come.

You can bet I'm on the lookout for Trident Code.

East Coast Don

Burned by Thomas Enger

Remember a few years ago how we all walked about with the obligatory copy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo under our arm? 

Henning Juul is an investigative reporter for a Norwegian online newspaper, 123News.com. He's been on leave for quite a while after a fire in his apartment tragically took his toddler son's life. His first day back and he is really conscious of his facial scars.  He is told to attend a press conference about a murder that occurred the prior night in Ekeberg Common, a public park. 

Henriette Hagerup was found by an early morning dog walker, in a tent, stoned to death, and her right hand missing. She was a talented screenwriting student at a local art college. The nature of the crime and the fact that she had a Pakistani boyfriend, Marhoni, makes the police think is was an honor killing. Henning is partnered with Iven Gundersen on the story, who just happens to be living with Henning's ex, Nora, and mother of their deceased child. 

The boyfriend is picked up, but won't say anything. Circumstantial evidence points an accusatory finger at him, but there are some aspects of the murder that don't sound like an honor killing to Henning. He canvases the art college to get a feel for who Henriette was from notes and memorials left on the grounds. One note grabs his attention from fellow film student, Anette, "I'll carry on your work."

Henning does some research on Pakistani immigrants. Marhoni has a brother in Oslo and Tariq has a bit of a history with a gang, BBB (Bad Boys Burning). So Henning decides to interview Tariq. The interview just gets going when a knock takes Tariq to the door where, upon opening the door, he takes 2 shots to the chest and 1 to the head. Henning jumps out the window and in now on the run from whomever it was he witnessed pull the trigger.

Henriette's murder, Marhoni's arrest, and Tariq's execution may be connected or a tragic coincidence. The police are trying to figure out if this was an honor killing,  connected with the BBB, or somehow related to the work Anette's note alluded to.

This is part I (copyright 2010) of the Henning Juul trilogy. Part II is Pierced that was favorably reviewed here at MRB. Never saw Burned anywhere so I went back to the good folks at Artria (a Simon and Schuster imprint) and they happily forwarded a copy. Again, a big high five to Atria Books!

Enger brings what we expect out of a Scandinavia mystery. A dark, foreboding story, full of twists and blind alleys. But once he's taken us to Henriette's killer, that dang book still had 50 pages to go. Ah, methinks there's a HUGE plot twist ahead. An excellent and satisfying mystery so all you folks who've suffered withdrawal symptoms after the Dragon Tattoo trilogy was done, don't despair. Start in with Burned.

But we still don't know what's behind the death of his son. We see what it has done to Hennig's psyche, but there must be more to the tragedy that underlies both Burned and Pierced.

East Coast Don

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Stephen King has written 54 novels, but he has been interestingly mostly ignored in this blog. ECD did one book review on a book called Dr. Sleep, but that’s it. His review was not particularly favorable. King has sold 350 million books, but for whatever reason, he’s not captured my attention. I decided to give this very prolific author a chance with a recent novel, Revival. This isn’t a crime novel, and it should probably be classified as a horror/fantasy book.

The story is about Jamie Morton, a boy in rural Maine, and Charles Jacobs, the new young minister of the church where Jamie’s family attends, and the story follows the two of them through their lives. Charles suffers the fate of having his wife and son killed in an auto accident, and then getting fired from the church when he unleashes the “Terrible Sermon” about there having been no God watching out for his family. Charles said, “But as I stood in the back room of [the funeral home] and looked down at the mangled remains of my boy, who wanted to go to Disneyland much more than he wanted to go to heaven, I had a revelation. Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so – pardon the pun – so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.”

But Reverend Charlie was also an experimenter and he was fascinated by electricity. He spent his life trying to understand its power and its uses, especially to heal people of various maladies. He developed a sham ministry in order to collect money that would fund his experiments and provide him with willing subjects. King takes us through the twists and turns of the reverend’s lfie and Jamie’s struggles through life until they encounter one another again, far from Maine, now with both as adults. I thought the dialogue and the attraction that they had to one another was compelling, and at 80% of the way through the book, King still had me in his grips, but then it came apart with the fantasy/mystical ending which I thought was absurd. If the ending was intended to be horror, it was not – just stupid. But, 350 million books sold – they can’t be all bad. Still, I’m no more motivated to read King than I have in the past. Oh well, at least I gave it a try.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sorrow Lake by Michael McCann

Sorrow Lake is Michael McCann’s first in what promises to be a series of police procedurals featuring Detective Constable Kevin Walker and Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police.  Walker is stationed at Sorrow Lake, a small rural town near the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Toronto and March hails from the Eastern Ontario police headquarters at Smiths Falls.

Det. Walker is called to the scene of a murder in a farmer’s field just outside of Sorrow Lake one wintery morning.   The victim has been shot through the neck with a shotgun from close range and is identified as Bill Hansen, a used car dealer from Sorrow Lake and neighbor to Walker.  Walker is placed in charge of the homicide investigation, his first, and Det. March is sent from the regional police headquarters to oversee the investigation… a common practice in Canada.

The investigation team is quickly assembled and Walker and March methodically lay out the process and make team assignments.  Nothing is left uncovered.  A forensic team analyzes the crime scene finding foot prints and tire tracks, and recovers the bullet.  Walker and March inform the widow of the deceased and measure her reaction for any abnormalities.  Every neighbor on her street is interviewed.  Hansen’s place of business as well as his home is searched for any signs of foul play.  His business records, bank accounts, and phone calls are examined to identify anyone who was in contact with him and to discover any unusual transactions.  Employees are interviewed as well as business associates.

From Hansen’s place of business they discover a late model Range Rover is loaded with about a quarter of a million dollars worth of BHO, marijuana butane hash oil and records indicate it’s to be delivered the following day.  Another car from the lot, an Audi Q7 had been picked up by a local lady, Jeanne Clayton the day of Hansen’s death.  While interviewing Mrs. Clayton, Walker and March discover Clayton may have seen the murderer when she picked up her car that day.  She offers a description of a man who she had witnessed having an argument with Hansen and a manhunt is on.  But the evidence just doesn’t add up for March.  Why would a drug client or supplier kill Hansen and leave the spoils?  Plus why is Walker so friendly and loose lipped with the retired police chief still living in Sorrow Lake?  And why did Hansen call the police station the night of his death, then hang up without talking to anyone?  There has to be something in Hansen’s life that their detailed research has yet to uncover.

I happened upon this book on NetGalley and in keeping with West Coast Don’s foray into Eastern Canada and its native authors, decided to give it a try.  Also, I have a personal connection to this area in that I had numerous commercial dealings with folks from here as well as from Western Ontario and Quebec during my career. As for Sorrow Lake, McCann writes a linear and detailed saga on how to investigate a murder complete with interesting diversions while revealing tidbits about the lives of the main characters and historical facts about the area.  There is very little gore and not a lot of suspense but a straight forward, ‘Just the facts, Mam’ type of approach… classic police procedural.  I’m sufficiently interested to try the second in the series due to be released next year entitled Burn Country.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Trial of Passion

It’s not that I’ve discovered a new author, hardly. William Deverell has an impressive body of work that I’ve stumbled into, fortunately. In short, Trial of Passion is a crime novel having to do with an alleged date rape by Jonathan O’Donnell, the acting dean of the law school in Vancouver, Canada, the victim being one of his students, 23-year-old Kimberley Martin. But far more than being a crime novel, it’s a love story, of love painfully lost and then found again. The protagonist is the erudite Arthur Beauchamp, a criminal defense trial attorney who at 62 years old, had suddenly gone into retirement and unofficially separated from his very sexually active wife, although not active with him since Beauchamp has been impotent for the last many years. Arthur buys a place on an island which is a short float plane ride from Vancouver, and it is only with great reluctance that he allows himself to be pulled back for one more case, to defend O’Donnnell against the charges against him.

There is a lot to this story, and the writing draws favorable comparisons to the literary and learned text of Ken Bruen, to the descriptive power of James Lee Burke, and the character development of Louise Penny. He also brings humor to his writing that I can’t quite compare to anyone else. The courtroom drama is incredible, and the drama approaches John Grisham at his best. That is mighty praise and even before completing Trial of Passion, I acquired two more of his novels. Deverell beautifully supports and contrasts his love themes with his ancillary characters, including some of the others that have fled to the island such as Margaret Blake, Beauchamp’s neighbor, and the construction crew he hires, Stoney and Dog. It’s also a story of alcoholism, Beauchamp’s struggle to continue his nine years of sobriety and the failure of his friend, George, to do so. In the end, it’s a story about life and the vicissitudes well all face.

After only one book, I can’t elevate Deverell to my list of “power authors,” but if his other books live up to this one, that’s where he belongs.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wicked Charms

When I got this book, I think I confused Janet Evanovich with Sara Paretski, which is a big mistake. Now I learn that Evanovich writes romantic adventure novels rather than Paretski’s Chicago-based crime novels. Oops. So, Evanovich does not write in any of my favored genres. She has a “Wicked Series” of which Wicked Charms is the most recent. Currently, the just-released hardbacks are being prominently displayed in airport bookstores. I saw it in San Diego, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Montreal. Then, it popped up in Net Galley, so I decided to give it a go. At 10% into the story, I gave it a stop. The dialogue is absurdly teenie-bopperish, and the story was clearly heading into the mystical, which is of no interest to me. My mistake, but Evanovich is a best selling author, so if this looks like your genre, give it a try. It’s just not my cup of tea, and even that expression is wrong since I’m a coffee drinker.