Ruth Addems is a soap opera star on the rise, but when her house in the affluent neighborhood of Black Hawk is broken into it looks as if she has a stalker and she is reffered to Rey. But Rey quickly finds out that things aren't always as they appear. In the world of Hollywood everyone has secrets and most stories are the stuff that nightmares are made of. Rey learns that once an object is in motion, it remains in motion...
Novellas must present an author with a series of quite specific challenges - developing a plot, circumstances and resolution with enough development of enough character's to give the story some depth and engagement for a reader. Given that I've recently been reading quite a bit of Pulp Fiction I was really interested to see how Barrios would do this in a current day story.
And it has to be said, in an AN OBJECT IN MOTION, Barrios has pulled off all of the major requirements - with a nice touch of cynical humour that worked really well. Not that this novella reads as a direct rip off of the old Pulp format, and thankfully, there's a good female character who's not just the "blond and beautiful - dangerous and/or as thick as mud" stereotype. Most of the characters in this story have a questionable background, which means that the possible list of suspects builds and moves around as more and more is uncovered.
All in all, AN OBJECT IN MOTION is a good plot that rolls along at a good pace, with the reader given a real sense of solving the puzzle along with our central detective. Well that is until a very interesting twist at the end - that I certainly didn't see coming - but which just made a lot of sense. A definite "of course" sort of moment at the end of a very entertaining story.
THE THIRD RAIL - Michael Harvey
A woman is shot as she waits for her train to work. An hour later, a second woman is gunned down as she rides an elevated train through the Loop. Two hours after that, a church becomes the target of a chemical weapons attack. The city of Chicago is under siege.
THE THIRD RAIL is the third Michael Kelly, policeman turned PI, based thriller, set in Chicago. And Harvey doesn't muck around, throwing Kelly right into the middle of the action from the start of the book, when waiting at an El stop he witnesses a man shooting a woman in the head. In hot pursuit, Kelly is waylaid in an alley and knocked out cold. Which leaves some room for speculation about whether or not the shooter has a partner. Another passenger dies on the same transport system and it's not too long before it becomes obvious that the first shooting was meant to get Kelly involved.
The pace of the book doesn't let up at any point from the start to the end - which is just as well because the plot gets very convoluted at points with a big cast of investigators including the Kelly, the local police, FBI and Homeland Security. All the way through though, it's obvious that there is something very personal in the targeted involvement of Kelly, and despite all the other participants, he alone is destined to save the day.
Alongside Kelly's story, the story of the killer(s) (it's very quickly revealed that this is a team, although there are aspects of that that need to be left unsaid so as not to spoil the overall plot) is told through a series of revelations. Whilst their story is told, and some of the motivation revealed, it's not until right at the end of the book that all the elements are fully explored. To be honest it wasn't too hard to figure out the main suspect (simply because there didn't seem to be much reason for them to be there otherwise), and it wasn't hard to figure out that the events were going to be connected and therefore where the grudges lay.
I think that's probably the only major problem I had with this book - the motivation seemed to be a tad obvious in some instances, overly complex in others and frankly partially unbelievable. Having said that, Kelly is a good character and I liked the fact that I didn't really need to have read the first two books to get a handle on him very quickly. Ultimately THE THIRD RAIL was fast, it was reasonably exciting, and quite readable. But, and this doesn't happen very often, not a lot of the book has stayed with me.
CAUGHT - Harlan Coben
Seventeen-year-old Haley McWaid is a good girl, the pride of her suburban New Jersey family, captain of the lacrosse team, headed off to college next year with all the hopes and dreams her doting parents can pin on her. Which is why, when her mother wakes one morning to find that Haley never came home the night before, and three months quickly pass without word from the girl, the community assumes the worst.
Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission, to identify and bring down sexual predators via elaborate - and nationally televised - sting operations.
Dan Mercer knows he shouldn't be entering this house. But CAUGHT by Harlan Coben starts out with him going into that darkened house, ignoring his misgivings and walking straight into a nightmare. A seventeen-year-old girl has simply vanished into thin air, and there is nothing that a dedicated policeman can find that that will solve the mystery. Dan's problems, however, are easier to quantify - he's been caught in a televised sexual predator sting - run by journalist Wendy Tynes.
As the story builds the possibility of a link between Dan and the missing Haley, the life of Wendy in particular gets a hefty concentration. Starting Wendy off in the role of vigilante is a risky act on the part of this author as it's not too hard to imagine that she's going to be a unsympathetic character for some readers. There is some blurring of the harder edges of her characterisation with the story of her own life - the death of her husband at the hands of a drunk driver, her relationship with her teenage son and her father-in-law (the father-in-law was a standout character for this reader at least) and her ultimate acceptance that perhaps she'd unfairly accused Dan (too late for him of course). There's absolutely nothing wrong with an overtly unsympathetic central character however, and there are elements of Wendy that make perfect sense (taking a moment to consider whether I could forgive a drunk who killed my husband - and well let's just hope I'm never put in that position as I'm not too sure how I'd go), but something didn't completely ring true for me. I don't have a problem with characters that I don't personally warm too - but I have to be able to believe in them implicitly. There's something about the various epiphanies and circumstances of Wendy that simply didn't ring true - was too convenient.
From the opening scenes of this book - the sting, then a missing young girl, you could be excused a sense of overwhelming inevitability that's very very hard to lose. CAUGHT is very much a thriller style book and there is a lot happening as the many threads work their way towards a conclusion. There is quite a sense of pace at points throughout the book, but it could be a little patchy, with not quite enough to distract me from the overt engineering of many of the plot elements. There are a lot of supporting characters and it did seem at points that we were heading off into territory that might have been vaguely amusing (if you like aging white rappers and unemployed men sitting around in coffee shops), but there were points when I got a distinct feeling of frustration as we headed into a lot of twisting and turning passages without the magic word.
As a reader not adverse to a thriller, I found myself struggling with CAUGHT. Perhaps things didn't get off to a great start for me with the vigilante TV show sting, and it went downhill as I found the only character I could believe in (the policeman investigating Haley's disappearance) fading more and more into the background. For a thriller to work for this reader I've got to be able to suspend disbelief, and there was something about the plot that didn't quite carry me forward regardless, and something about the characters that didn't let me forget or forgive their flaws and go with the ride.
THE BURNING WIRE - Jeffery Deaver
New York is being held to ransom. Manhattan's electricity grid has been the victim of a horrific attack . . . and more are planned.
While the FBI and Homeland Security try to determine who's behind the carnage, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs race to decode the forensics in order to prevent the next assault.
But all is not what it seems. Electricity can be as lethal as it is vital, and Lincoln Rhyme soon finds he's up against a merciless killer with a unique weapon one that can be found in everyone's home and office.
Having only ever read the very first Lincoln Rhyme book, I was wondering if THE BURNING WIRE, the 9th in this series would work.
Obviously there's been a lot happen in Lincoln Rhyme's life, not the least of which is the medical issues he deals with due to his quadriplegia. But he has a great supporting staff, including his personal carer, and a loving relationship with a member of his investigating team - Amelia Sachs. As somebody absolutely not immersed in this series, the backstory, his current situation, everything about Lincoln fell into place nicely and there was no feeling whatsoever of this reader being left out of the loop.
The central plot of this book is an interesting one. Somebody is using the Manhattan electricity grid to kill people, holding the power company and the City to ransom. The instant conclusion is terrorism, and some authorities seem to head off down a series of rabbit holes, while Rhyme's group quietly, methodically and urgently build a picture of their quarry from the facts at each crime scene. As this picture builds, facts start to fit the profile - leading not too far down the path to an identity for the man at the centre of this threat. Finding him, however, is not so easy.
There are a number of interesting aspects to this book, which moves along at a very rapid pace. Firstly there is the nature of the threat, and the way in which the electricity grid is being used as a weapon, rather than simply having the grid itself threatened. Then there is the way that the perpetrator is identified, but still not able to be located, despite his identity rapidly leading to motivation. As the profile of this man builds, the chase becomes more intense, and his team on the ground face many personal threats and problems, and still the killer can't be found. Along the way Rhyme is following the story of his arch-enemy, The Watchmaker, who is far away and proving a problem for authorities in Mexico.
The best part of THE BURNING WIRE is the way that the plot builds. As each element is revealed - the how / the who and the why, there is still that desperate feeling of how they are possibly going to find one man in a city like Manhattan. As each part of the puzzle contributes more to their understanding of what is driving this killer, how he works, what he's thinking, there's also the impact of that silent, invisible, deadly weapon. Even with an idea of what the killer is going to do next, the problem remains - how do they find him / how do they stop him / how do they avoid being one of his victims. What was less successful were the frequent forays into the whys and wherefores of electricity which will probably be exactly what appeals to others - but for this reader, it was too detailed and too intrusive. Add to that a rather convoluted final twist in the central plot which was disappointing. Until that point, there had been a sense of something particularly chilling and believable about a lone random threat. Whilst that did result in THE BURNING WIRE being a book where the journey was considerably more satisfying than the destination, it was a very good wild ride.
SO COLD THE RIVER - Michael Koryta
It started with a documentary. The beautiful Alyssa Bradford approaches Eric Shaw to unearth the life story of her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, a 95-year-old billionaire whose childhood is wrapped in mystery. Eric grabs the job, even though the only clues to Bradford's past are his hometown and an antique water bottle he's kept all his life.
In Bradford's hometown, Eric discovers an extraordinary past - a glorious domed hotel where movie stars, presidents, athletes and mobsters once intermingled. Long derelict, the hotel has just been restored to its former grandeur.
There are a lot of reasons why I move heaven and earth to get hold of a Philip McLaren book when I hear there's a new one in the offing. Firstly, as yo
Okay, so before we go too much further SO COLD THE RIVER came with a media release that flagged it as, amongst other things an "explosive thriller" and "supernatural horror". Not exactly a recipe for my perfect book. Having said that, there have been plenty of reading examples in my recent past that make me aware that my "recipe" is a very fluid thing.
Eric Shaw is down and out. A disgraced movie maker, separated from his wife, he's in Chicago making "life portraits" for people on video - think weddings, parties, and funerals. During one of these funerals, Shaw is approached by Alyssa who wants him to make a documentary of the life of her father-in-law Campbell Bradford. The family knows very little about the billionaire head of the family, except that his hometown is West Baden in Indiana. Alyssa also hands over a very old bottle of Pluto Water which Campbell has held onto for many years, tying him to not just that small town, but a large part of its own history. This small, mysterious, smelly, murky water bottle is the key to Shaw going to West Baden and somewhere a whole lot stranger.
The language used in SO COLD THE RIVER was quite beautiful in places, the basic bones of story intriguing. An elderly, private man and what happened to him, and this small town over all those years. The author is also doing something that I really like with dialogue: it's crisp, pointed, realistic. There's also the sense of pace and suspense that you want from a first class thriller. They come with an extremely hefty dose of the supernatural, the paranormal. It is absolutely intrinsic to the way that the story unfolds and is told. Undoubtedly Michael Koryta is a very good writer, as I stayed with this book even as I found this increasingly alternative reality more and more unconvincing.
Unfortunately, the supernatural elements were simply laid on so thick that suspension of my disbelief would have required engineering greater than the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. I'm also not sure I understand the inclusion of horror in the definitions, as there didn't seem to be many of the standard elements I expect with that genre - so if you're normally nervous of that, there's not a lot that should concern you about that.
Undoubtedly this is a book for readers with a higher tolerance for the supernatural elements being a core component of the story. Perhaps that's the difference between SO COLD IS THE RIVER and other books that I've read and enjoyed recently. The supernatural in SO COLD IS THE RIVER is an intrinsic part of the way that this story unfolds - there's no getting around it, there's no balancing of a fantasy and reality. To be fair there's no attempt, no pretence, an overt declaration that this fantastical series of events is the point of the book. Because of that it's most likely a book for people who really like fantasy, the fantastical.. the supernatural. It's likely to also be a book for dedicated fans of Michael Koryta's writing. For the rest of us, well I've not had the pleasure of reading any of Kortya's "straight" crime fiction but I'm going to have to rectify that.
u can probably pick from the synopsis above, there's a very dry, understated wit in McLaren's story-telling style. He's also writing about his own people, in a way that's both affectionate and exasperated. He's also frequently very very pointed about the difficulties Aboriginal people in Australia face on a daily basis.
What McLaren is doing in MURDER IN UTOPIA is really interesting. He runs a parallel story of a young Aboriginal girl in Australia, against a disgraced New York doctor both of whom collide in Utopia. McLaren hastens to add this is not a book about the real Utopia - rather it's a fictional setting for his book, stating "I found the irony irresistible: imagine naming a place Utopia, a place so impoverished, so desolate."
The narrative moves forward bringing Jack Nugent to outback Australia and a community in need of medical services, as well as a community struggling against so many issues - alcohol, violence, neglect, poor housing, tensions with authorities. All of these are told from both points of view - from the American, doctor, outsider with alcohol problems of his own, and from people within the community. A ritual killing becomes a catalyst for people to adjust their views and for the depth of the problems in the community to be dragged into the daylight.
The structure of this book really works well, and whilst it is obvious that there is a lot of opinions and observations of reality being voiced within the narrative, fair enough. In fact it's a privilege to read a fictional story addressing real-life issues in an Aboriginal voice, and the occasional stridency or maybe sledge-hammer adjustment of plot to make a point seemed perfectly reasonable in the circumstances.
Not a book for readers looking just for "pure entertainment" MURDER IN UTOPIA is a book for readers that want to learn something about issues we should be more aware of, written by somebody who obviously knows.
RAVENS - George Dawes Green
When grifters Shaw and Romeo pull up at a convenience store in Georgia, their only thought is to fix a faulty tyre and be on their way to Florida.
But this happens to be the store from which a $318 million jackpot ticket has just been sold - and when the pretty clerk accidentally reveals the identity of the winning family, Shaw hatches a terrifyingly audacious plan.
RAVENS has a great idea for a plot - two drifters, on the way to somewhere else, overhear a story about a local lottery win and they quickly hatch a plan to take advantage. Take the household captive and threaten everybody they hold dear until the money is handed over.
There is a blurring of norms going on in RAVENS - on the one hand you have the two drifters - Shaw and Romeo - one clever / one a bit thick - there's a power relationship between these two that feels the stresses and strains as the novel progresses. The hostage family - the Boatwrights aren't a tight unit in their own right with a lot of tension between teenage daughter Tara and her mother - who is frankly a bit odd. Part of the complication between mother and daughter plays out in their reactions to Shaw in particular - Tara flirting, clearly not sure if she is acting or not, and the rest of the family slipping quickly into a form of Stockholm Syndrome - so quickly it was surprising.
The entire scenario needs a couple of important elements to work. A real and present danger, a threat, the constant maintenance of that threat and something to make the reader believe that the family believes the reality of that threat. But RAVENS doesn't go there. At all. In fact, the central plotline seemed to emerge occasionally from a mismash of subplots that got so confusing and distracting that any sense of overlying threat to the Boatwrights just disappeared in a cloud of fluff. Granted Shaw seems to be making up most of the plot as the book goes along, but at no stage did I really feel like they were actually going to do anything - I just didn't believe the menace. Perhaps it was that some of these subplots, the religious overtones, the families dysfunction, the drifters joint and individual dysfunction, the lack of conviction for the part they are playing from just about everybody in the plot (probably part of the design - less than convinced criminals / less than convinced victims), and it just seemed like there was too little happening in a scenario that attempted too much.
I really wanted to like this book. An opportunistic, fraught pairing of no-hopers who have a go, granted not the go you'd be proud to tell you grandmother about, but a go nonetheless. Despite there being a few places within the book where I distinctly remember thinking this is it, we're off, it never quite launched and I came away from the book with a feeling that I had obviously missed something.
WE KNOW - Gregg Hurwitz
We Know who you are
Nick Horrigan thinks that he has his life back on track after a mysterious, traumatic incident that occurred just before his eighteenth birthday. He has forgotten about the past, and lives contentedly in LA.
WE KNOW is the second book from Gregg Hurwitz, which was released in 2008. This is a review very much in the spirit of better late than never, as this is a book that is just the thing for fans of big, over-the-top, clever, pitch-perfect thrillers.
You really have to remember that WE KNOW is a thriller. The central character Nick Horrigan obviously has a secret which is obviously going to be slowly revealed as the book progresses (well it becomes obvious after a seat of the pants opening scene). Not everyone with a secret, however, gets a SWAT team descending from a Black Hawk helicopter in the middle of the night to smash their way into their apartment. What on earth sort of a secret is it that would make Nick the sort of person that a terrorist, threatening to blow up a nuclear power station, ask to speak to? Alone.
WE KNOW is quite simply a wow of a thriller. It must be, as it does a number of things that normally would annoy this reader, and yet I was hooked. The cliffhanger at the end of each chapter normally annoys. There's a few completely unlikely scenarios (let's face it, for example, even with a HUGE secret, if the authorities wanted you to help out in a terrorist threat, they'd probably knock on the door before they sent in the Black Hawks). But really, the point of a good thriller is that it shouldn't matter if things get a little squiffy plot wise. If there's some obvious manipulation going on - well bring it on, pass the chocolates, pour a glass of wine and let's get stuck in here.
And this really is one of those tremendous thrillers. Simply couldn't put it down. Went out and bought the next book in the series the next day. You can't get better than that.
MOSCOW RULES - Daniel Silva
The violent death of a journalist leads agent turned art-restorer, Gabriel Allon, to Russia. Here he finds that in terms of spycraft, the stakes are the highest they've ever been. He's playing by Moscow rules now.
It's a particularly apt time to be reading Daniel Silva's espionage thriller MOSCOW RULES, given the recent re-release of Eric Ambler's early espionage works from just before the start of the second world war. Particularly apt as the Moscow Rules of the title, is a hat tip to John le Carre's classic novel Smiley's People - Le Carre having acknowledged Ambler as one of the influential pioneers of the genre.
MOSCOW RULES follows, therefore, a significant body of espionage thriller books. The central protagonist Gabriel Allon follows in the footprints of some incredibly strong characters, although as a part-time art restorer, part-time spy Allon is a slightly different take on the norm. In MOSCOW RULES Allon and his new wife are attempting to have a honeymoon when he's summoned back to meet with a Russian journalist who will only talk to him. The violent death of that journalist takes Allon into new Russia - awash with new money and old enemies. Allon must stop a plot to deliver Russia's most sophisticated weapon to al-Qaeda before it's too late.
I'm not adverse to a bit of good old fashioned espionage, spying, cloak and dagger doings as might be guessed from my overall reading habits. Unfortunately, not having read any of the other books in this series definitely put this reader at a bit of a disadvantage. Sorting out who Allon was; how he fits in with what seems to be an ongoing cast of characters; where the art restoring fitted; and other elements of his back story required a fair amount of effort, and as such I was frequently having to go back and remind myself of plot points and elements of the overall story, which made reading this book a little more time consuming than it would have been had I started somewhere earlier in the series.
Overall I did find that I was engaged by the storytelling, and I did like what I could glean about Allon. Perhaps reading earlier books would have helped as the plot here is very dense with lots of things going on, and sorting out the personalities and the who's who at the same time was very distracting. If you've read earlier books in the series I suspect that MOSCOW RULES will be another favourite for you. Perhaps, if like me you've not had the pleasure before, it might work better if you start a little earlier in the series, as I now intend to do.
The Gabriel Allon series is made up of the following books:
The Kill Artist
The English Assassin
A Death in Venice
Prince of Fire
The Secret Servant
The Defector (July 2009)
A DEADLY TRADE - Michael Stanley
How can a man die twice? That's the question facing Detective 'Kubu' Bengu when a mutilated body is found at a tourist camp in northern Botswana. The corpse of Goodluck Tinubu displays the classic signs of a revenge killing. But when his fingerprints are analysed Kubu makes a shocking discovery: Tinubu is already dead. He was slain in the Rhodesian war thirty years ago.
There's something in the water (or maybe it's in the dust) in Africa at the moment. Whilst there has been a slowly increasing number of crime or mystery books set in Africa, there's now an increasing number written by African authors appearing for our enjoyment. Michael Stanley (the South African duo of long-time friends Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip), have now released their second book - A DEADLY TRADE (aka The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu), follow up to the very well received debut book - A CARRION DEATH.
Wrapped up in the well devised plot of a solid police procedural, A DEADLY TRADE is very much a novel of Africa. The setting for the crime obviously helps - a tourist bush camp, made up of tents, set on the banks of crocodile and hippo infested waters. The characters fit so well into that setting - Detective 'Kubu' Bengu the central investigator (Kubu means hippopotamus in Setswana) and Detective Sergeant Joseph 'Tatwa' Mooka (Tatwa - Giraffe in the same language) are the main investigation team, working to solve the disappearance of one man and the killing of two others at the camp. The brutal death of Tinubu is the most baffling of the killings - despite having been declared dead many years ago during the Rhodesian war, he seems to have subsequently lead a blameless and quiet life as a much respected teacher in Botswana. The other two elements that firmly set this book in Africa are the terminology, and a quintessential use of pacing. Whilst the general pace of the book is rapidfire, and the investigation moves constantly forward, there is a wonderful feeling of slowing, of consideration, of reflection whenever Kubu appears in the narrative. There's something about the writing of this character that imparts a feeling of consideration, intelligence and thoughtfulness, a large man physically, Kubu doesn't rush around no matter how hectic an investigation gets. He thinks, he ponders, he eats (very well). Connections have to be drawn between Kubu and Hercule Poroit in the way that they both approach an investigation, Montalbano in the way that they both approach the next meal. Kubu has a family though, and when his beloved wife Joy and sister-in-law Patience are threatened as a result of this investigation, the reader sees a little more than his size as a link to his nickname. Kubu enraged must be a sobering sight!
There is another level to A DEADLY TRADE and that is the glimpses into the ongoing effects of the Rhodesian War, the current day problems in Zimbabwe and the complicated relationship between that country, and the surrounding nations. There are also touches of the problems that beset all nations - drugs, violence and organised crime. The fallout from the Rhodesian War is something that greatly impacts on A DEADLY TRADE, and in the way of all very good story tellers, the implications of that are spelt out in the book without it being a lesson, rather it's a revelation.
A DEADLY TRADE (as with the first book A CARRION DEATH) is just simply good crime fiction. The crime occurs within a social situation and in a social reality that impacts on the actions of everyone. Small events in the past don't necessarily go unforgotten, and brutality often engenders brutality. Adding an African situation to that scenario adds a new twist to the events, at the same time that it shows that human reactions are human reactions, the world over.
Incidentally - there is a cast of characters at the front of the book to help if the unfamiliar names are phasing the reader, and a Glossary at the back which can help with understanding of some of the terminology. As part two in a series of books, it's often best if you've read the earlier book - so that you have a background to all the characters. Having said that, it would be possible to pick up A DEADLY TRADE and start - but that's no reason why you shouldn't also seek out A CARRION DEATH.
AFRICAN PSYCHO - Alain Mabanckou
Gregoire Nakobomayo, a petty criminal, has decided to kill his girlfriend Germaine. He's planned it for some time, but still, the act of murder requires a bit of psychological and logistical preparation.
When AFRICAN PSYCHO by Alain Mabanckou arrived in my book stack, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I've finished it now and I'm still not sure what I got. But I do remember it!
Gregoire is a neglected child - an ugly child - an anonymous child - abandoned by his parents - he's raised in an increasingly haphazard manner really by himself mostly. He vows he will be different. He will be remembered. He vows to escape his humdrum reality and commit a spectacular murder. Just like his idol - the serial killer Angoualima. Angoualima is Gregoire's guide, his mentor, his hero. He's dead, but that doesn't mean that Gregoire is separated from him, often sharing his plans when sitting on Angoualima's grave.
Told in Gregoire's own voice, AFRICAN PSYCHO is a journey into the macabre, the funny, the sad, the desperate and the disturbing. At the same time, there are great sweeping vistas of the absurd - not the least because the author uses the most bizarre names for places - "He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot" is where Gregoire lives. The novel isn't set in a real place, just as Gregoire's life is somehow not quite real.
AFRICAN PSYCHO isn't a book that fits into any "category" that's for sure. It's frequently weird, it's often confusing, but at the same time it's compelling, intriguing and just a little sad. Gregoire's an unreliable narrator in some ways, not by artifice or to manipulate. He's fragile. He's very damaged. The world he lives in isn't anywhere near where the rest of us lead our lives.
It's not an easy book to read, partially because it doesn't fit into any particular pattern or mould. It's also not an easy book to read as Gregoire's somebody who despite everything, that you could very well find yourself caring about - a lot.