Diving the frigid Chesapeake Bay for oysters, former SEAL Ben Blackshaw discovers a sunken speedboat filled with nineteen cases of gold bullion, the twentieth case concealing a dirty bomb counting down to zero. At the wreck's helm Blackshaw finds the corpse of a man he hasn't seen in fifteen years - his father. Corrupt NSA operative Maynard Chalk leads a pack of bloodthirsty mercs to steal the infernal cargo. Blackshaw must rally his fellow Smith Islanders for a fight to the death, or ignite World War III.
Set in the area of the Chesapeake Bay DEADRISE by Maryland Eastern shore author Robert Blake Whitehill is a thriller featuring former SEAL Ben Blackshaw. An oyster gatherer (I think that's the right word), Blackshaw discovers a lot more than he bargained for on one dive that changes his life, and the lives of a lot of people in the small community that he lives in.
Australian's are very aware that our slang is quite often impenetrable to people from other locations. Probably because of the amount of TV and Film watched from other countries, I'm often in the fortune position of being not too shabby at understanding much of the slang and colloquial language from other locations. Until DEADRISE. Where I have to confess I spent a truly staggering amount of time wondering what on earth everyone was talking about. This is a book that's set very firmly in its location, revelling in the uniqueness of both the environment, and the people that live in it.
The plot builds a number of different angles, although really, the point is that there's not a lot of honour and trust amongst thieves and villains and that goes about as high up in society hierarchy as you can get. I must admit I did find some of the baddies just a bit over the top on occasion and the level of random violence a little surprising. I also can't begin to tell you how firmly I had to sit on my disbelief over the sudden arrival into the mix of a dirty nuclear bomb. But it's a thriller and suspension of disbelief's not an unusual requirement and the pace of the story does give you more than enough to be going on with.
The strength of DEADRISE is the way that the setting comes alive (even with the confusion of the slang), obviously this is an area that the author knows, loves and wants to convey to his readers. The plot was okay, although there were some elements that just seemed a little over the top. My only real complaint is, being a huge fan of sparse lyrical writing, I would have been more comfortable with a little restraint, maybe some editing to get things to the point and hammer that point home.
DEADRISE however, is definitely one for readers looking for a real feel of the location and the locals.
OUTERBOROUGH BLUES - Andrew Cotto
A beautiful young French girl walks into a bar, nervously lights a cigarette, and begs the bartender for help in finding her missing artist brother. In a moment of weakness, the bartender—a lone wolf named Caesar Stiles with a chip on his shoulder and a Sicilian family curse hanging over him—agrees. What follows is a stylish literary mystery set in Brooklyn on the dawn of gentrification.
I will admit that I read a lot of books that veer towards the dark, noirish end of the spectrum, and because of that, there can be a feeling of same old same old. So when something like OUTERBOROUGH BLUES comes along, there's a distinct feeling of a dark, chilling, cold wind blowing up your spine. In a good way.
Dark and quite subdued, OUTERBOROUGH BLUES has one of those plots, and central characters, who sneak up and play with your head. Starting out the sense of loss, darkness, and dysfunction seems to be heading in a rather predictable direction, but at about the time that young Caesar ups and gets out of his family home, the action, and Caesar, take a sharp turn and head off into new territory. The story starts out quite simply, low key almost, and though it quickly goes to flashbacks and current day action, the connections between the past and the present are understandable, and informative. As his hunt for the missing brother expands, and his day to day life in his local neighbourhood continues, it all gets increasingly involving, fascinating, and refreshingly different. Caesar's has been a tricky life, as is almost required from this sort of book, but there is a substantial variation in how he copes with the hand that life dealt. He has a sense of right and wrong, a morality that comes from his past, informed by what he's lost but also by the people who he has met along the way - and the kindness that is shown, as well as the brutality and cruelness. It's this aspect that made OUTERBOROUGH BLUES grab this reader by the throat and turned it into a one sitting read.
OUTERBOROUGH BLUES is a book that feeds the readers imagination. Whether it's the wonderful sense of place and culture in which the book takes place. Sparse, clever and sensitive descriptions that give the reader a feeling for the neighbourhood, the houses, the bars, the people. Often brush stroke light, they work incredibly well. Whether it's some great characters, not just Caesar, but the supporting cast, all of whom are believable. Fragile, flawed, victims, perpetrators all, there are glimpses of real human characteristics everywhere. Fleshed out by more of those well gauged brush stroke descriptions, expanded with good dialogue which reads authentically. Regardless of how OUTERBOROUGH BLUES fires up the imagination, it does it very very well, and I am very grateful that the author offered me a copy for review. I'll be on the lookout for purchase options for the next one.
PLAYING DEAD - Julia Heaberlin
The Letter: A few weeks after her father's death, Tommie McCloud receives a letter in the post from Rosalina Marchetti in Chicago. Rosalina claims that Tommie is her biological daughter, who was kidnapped over thirty years ago.
Up front, I really had some problems with this book. Using a first person voice is a tricky business as you're automatically hoping that the reader can achieve some sort of personal connection with your central character. That doesn't always automatically have to be "like", but it's certainly got to include believe. The other thing you're going to have to do in a thriller where you spend a lot of time in the main character's head, is use motivations and actions that make sense. Alas neither option quite worked out in PLAYING DEAD.
The plot has quite an interesting idea at the core - a woman suddenly finds that everything she believed was true about her stable, loving family isn't. Of course you're going to have to accept that the letter that sends Tommie off in a cloud of confusion has to arrive just after her beloved father dies... and her mother's dementia is too far advanced for coherence, but, well coincidences happen don't they?
The problem I had with PLAYING DEAD really came down to questions of credibility - whilst the stable loving family thing sort of worked, albeit a little nauseating on occasions, our heroine, was too conveniently inconsistent. Strong, wild child, ex-rodeo rider, intelligent, educated, woman who went all daft as a brush as required. Not helped at all by the idea that she could boldly go wherever and whenever she damn well felt - as long as the big strong ex-boyfriend, conveniently in just the right line of work to step in and save the day, was ... well available to step in to save the day.
The question of credibility wasn't helped by the voice of the central character as well - it didn't quite jell. Whilst I guess it's possible that somebody with a degree in Psychology is the person least able to take a good hard look at themselves, but I kept wondering why she didn't at least have the occasional red light flashing in front of her eyes. I also couldn't quite get the idea that somebody who spent all those years on the rodeo circuit didn't seem to have any idea whatsoever of personal peril / risk assessment. I'm not talking a bit of an error, I'm talking what seemed to be repeatedly bashing your head into a brick wall and wondering what it is that's making your head hurt... Once all this started circling around in my mind, I found myself nitpicking which is never a good thing. Nitpicking about the need for Tommie to be beautiful, and the rodeo champion thing, and the need for the degree so she's not just all brawn, oh and let's chuck in rich into the bargain.
Having said all of that, perhaps what's going to make this book work for other readers is a sense of connection with Tommie. If you get that, then the rest of the stuff might not be an issue. Goodness knows I've read plenty of books where a central character's propensity for personally inflicted idiocy is neither here nor there, but I've believed in that character, been on their side if you like. Alas I couldn't quite make that connection in PLAYING DEAD.
THE STRANGER YOU SEEK - Amanda Kyle Williams
In the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer, a killer is pushing the city to its breaking point, preying on the unsuspecting, writing taunting letters to the media, promising more death. Desperate to stop the Wishbone Killer before another victim meets a shattering end, A.P.D. lieutenant Aaron Rauser turns to the one person he knows can penetrate a deranged mind: ex–FBI profiler Keye Street.
Confession time (again!) I wasn't going to read this book. Nothing personal. I just looked at the blurb, saw serial killer and thought... over them. But, long story short, there was this homework assignment, I thought ... proof copy, grabbed the first one I saw, and no homework was done. Could not put THE STRANGER YOU SEEK down.
The thing that really grabbed me was the central character - Keye Street. She's got one of those voices that can really appeal to this reader. A recovering alcoholic with a failed marriage, and a partially acknowledged attraction to her best friend, mentor and cop Aaron Rauser she's a fabulously complicated character. One of her own greatest critics, Street's got a very chequered background - going from rising star FBI profiler with two university degrees and an enviable criminal profiling track record, to working for herself, making ends meet serving subpoenas, chasing down bail skippers and looking for missing cows.
Obviously there are going to be comparisons drawn with Grace Smith / Stephanie Plum and the like. Whilst there are elements that are just about identical - the job description alone is enough to get you thinking in that direction. Add a slightly madcap family; romantic tension; a hefty dose of personal lunacy and a rushing around investigation style and there is a point in the book where you do wonder about the similarities. For this reader, however, there are some marked differences. Some nuance about the humour, some of the self-awareness in the character, but probably the biggest difference is a real sense of desire to move on. The madcap family (sans Grandmother, but with a mother and father who fill in the personality requirements quite nicely), is built around the adoption, by her extremely Southern American sensibility parents, of Street (Asian American) and her brother (African American). Both the parents have starring roles in the humour department, which was subtle, and clever and frequently laugh out loud funny. Humour, in particular, is something that does not always travel well culturally, and for this Australian reader, much of the conflict between Street and her mother, and between her mother and father, worked really well - with a stand-out being the father's recitation of grace, which had me roaring with laughter.
The point of these books isn't just the humour. There's a serious investigation going on, although built around a serial killer, that has some hints and tips along the way that could make a reader wonder if there is something slightly different going on here.
Street also isn't just what you see is what you get. There's depth, roundedness, flaws and good points to her character that are very engaging. There's an acerbic, pointed and enlightening internal voice that works, not just to give you a chance to get to know the character, but also makes her quite real. Her supporting cast is relatively well fleshed out also, although, obviously as this is the first book, the concentration is pretty heftily on the main character. The serial killer thread is nicely done this time, with a final twist in the tail that I simply did not see coming.
That's not to say that everything is perfect and there are some rather hamfisted attempts at humour which don't quite hit the mark... not the least is a tendency to see sexual desire in every lesbian character that Street encounters, but all in all, thanks to THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, once again, "over serial killers" needs an equivocation clause.....
SOMETHING MISSING - Matthew Dicks
A career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes, Martin considers himself one of the best in the biz. After all, he’s been able to steal from the same people for years on end—virtually undetected. Of course, this could also be attributed to his unique business model—he takes only items that will go unnoticed by the homeowner.
SOMETHING MISSING is an entertaining romp through the life of a very unique burglar. The sort of burglar (if you must be burgled), that you would hope was rifling through your personals.
Martin Railsback is really, seriously, just about the perfect burglar. His OCD tendencies mean that he's absolutely obsessed with his methodology. In fact, Martin approaches his burglary with a seriousness that's strangely endearing. He has a very limited group of houses that he steals from - a client base, as he refers to them - that have a particular household profile. Once in their homes, he takes small items that are unlikely to be noticed, toilet rolls, half empty bottles of detergent, rarely used pieces tucked away at the back of display cabinets. Mostly though it's general day to day living items, his version of grocery shopping if you like. He works the houses of his clients carefully, setting up the stealing of some items over long periods of time, carefully ensuring that most of the items he takes will go unnoticed by his clients. He limits the "big ticket items" to those that he can carefully scope out, taking months and months to steal first one, then the second in, for example, a rarely worn pair of diamond earrings.
Everything this man does is so carefully controlled, considered, cautious and ... well ... tidy, that you really can't help wondering where the author is going with all of this, but there is a very slow build up as Martin carefully takes the reader through his methodology, his life. It's all a bit car-crash fascinating, and made me profoundly pleased that we wouldn't have fit Martin's careful client profiling, as to be honest, the sorts of things he was regularly stealing from his clients, are exactly the sorts of things that could go missing around here with neither of us likely to notice!
But something does eventually go wrong for Martin, and his carefully contained, controlled life does hit a very big snag. What is even better is that the snag is self-imposed, something he could have walked away from, leaving nobody any the wiser about his daily activities. Something that is happening in a client's life offends Martin's sense of right and he has to get involved.
SOMETHING MISSING was a thoroughly enjoyable book, it's the sort of book that slowly builds, that weaves a story around the reader, that's sometimes laugh out loud funny. But for somebody as controlled, considered and self-involved as Martin, somehow he works as a first person voice for the book. Somehow the OCD that affects his every waking hour, also affects his own voice. It's contained, it's explanatory, rather than self-congratulatory, it's quiet, measured and just a little bit sad to be honest. It's an unexpected viewpoint, and goes towards what was really an interesting, unusual and rather entertaining book. Especially if you'd like a crime fiction outing that's not about death and mayhem and murder.
ABC DEAD - Ethan Youngblood
Mixed in deep despair and on the verge of suicide, writer Genesis Hawke seeks to free his creative muse by using a newspaper advertisement to lure an at-large serial killer into giving his life story. But nothing is quite what it seems as Hawke soon discovers he is dealing with much more than the ego of a maniacal murderer.
This book has been sitting on the pile in the corner that came from somewhere I've completely forgotten about - and it's been on that pile for quite a few years now. So I thought I should pick it up and "get on with it".
Probably shouldn't have bothered. Definitely not my style - trying too hard to be arch and sort of funny, with a plot that simply didn't work on any level and to be honest, when I got to "he said satanically" very nearly became a DNF. Really only got to the end out of sheer bloodymindedness on my part.
THE TOURIST - Olen Steinhauer
In the global age of the CIA, there are hotspots everywhere. And whenever there's trouble, there's a Tourist: the men and women who do the dirty work. They're the Company's best agents - and Milo Weaver was the best of them all.
After five, multi-award nominated crime fiction novels, Hungary based, American born novelist Olen Steinhauer has turned his hand to contemporary espionage in THE TOURIST.
The action in this book centres around Milo Weaver - CIA Agent, Tourist, father and husband. Starting out in 2001, Milo, nursing a serious pill-popping addiction and a strong desire to suicide in the line of duty, is in the middle of a botched attempt to stop a hitman. Flash forward 7 years and Milo's got a wife, a child, and a personal interest in tracking down the hitman behind that nearly fatal, and life changing encounter. Out of active duty and in a desk job since then, Milo wasn't expecting the "Tiger" to hand himself over voluntarily. A deathbed conversation with the Tiger turns Milo's perceptions upside down, and set him on a path unexpected.
There are a number of elements in THE TOURIST that stand out. Milo, as a highly flawed, complicated central character in what is after all, an espionage novel, seems very realistic. A man with faults and flaws, he is poignantly aware of his own limitations - particularly when it comes to the ease with which he lives his professional life, compared to the way that he handles the personal. Obviously the situations in which he finds himself are not those which the average person is going to have to deal with, so a certain suspension of disbelief is going to be required on the part of the reader. There are some downsides to this characterisation however, the most notable one being the difficulty of focusing a great sense of moral and personal outrage, when the enemy is a little closer to home than would normally be the case. THE TOURIST gets into interesting territory in this area, a direction I found quite fascinating, but then I prefer the enemy to be less than straightforward. There's also a good sense of pace, with a nice sprinkling of rushing around, without it being too over the top. Mostly, however, there is a very elegant balancing of the tension, and the threat with some nice touches of reality, delivered with some very tongue in cheek humour. (What would be more hairy for your average burnt-out, long term spy - an encounter with a shadowy enemy or Disneyworld. Still can't decide!)
Where THE TOURIST may be slightly less satisfying for some readers is in the area of plot, where things are very busy. Lots of things happen, lots of characters (good and bad) come and go, and there's some question marks frequently on whether or not everything is / could / needs to be connected. Other readers may appreciate exactly this aspect. A spies life doesn't seem like one that would be tidy and neat, with one job wrapped up nicely and the paperwork done, before the next bad situation comes along. I liked the approach, and I particularly liked the way that Milo often had no idea what was happening, as well as me!
The element that ticked the biggest box for me, and the one that made THE TOURIST an interesting book was the portrayal of the mindsets of officialdom. Alongside the concept of the enemy within, perhaps more prevalent than an external threat, this gave considerable pause for thought.