Thursday, December 6, 2018

007 and Friends

Forever and a Day – Anthony Horowitz – (Harper)

I can’t imagine what a daunting task it must be to be tapped by any writer’s estate to pick up the mantle and continue the life of a signature character; the expectations of fans have to be off the charts. It happens with some regularity nowadays with cornerstone characters like Boston PI Spenser, CIA tough guys Mitch Rapp and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne continuing to live on after the passing of their creators.

I can’t think of a more difficult task than continuing the life and adventures of legendary British spy, Agent 007, James Bond. Bond has been part of the literary and film lexicon since Ian Fleming debuted him in 1953’s Casino Royale. Since Fleming’s passing, no less than eleven writers have taken on the task of continuing the Bond saga, if you include a Bond biography and the series of so-called “Young Bond” books.

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz is the latest to take on Bond – first with 2015’s Trigger Mortis and now with the audacious, prequel to Casino Royale – Forever and a Day. Horowitz skillfully sets the table and gives us the roots of not only Bond’s earning his license to kill, but also the source of his preference for bruised alcohol; shaken, not stirred.

Horowitz also had the benefit of some original material from Ian Fleming, which helps him ratchet up the excitement from what is a pretty straight forward storyline. As with most Bond stories, Horowitz succeeds by creating memorable characters that move through the Bond-sphere, including the femme-fatale, Sixtine. Horowitz is a master and Forever and a Day ranks among the year’s best.

The Moscow Sleepers – Stella Rimington – (Bloomsbury)

Not so much Bond here; strikes me a bit more from the world of John leCarre. Stella Rimington spent her professional career working for MI-5, the British internal security service. She worked the range from counter-espionage, subversion and terrorism; becoming the service’s first ever female director general.

It is from that base of experience that she builds her Liz Carlyle novel series and lends the stories a sense of realism. In her latest, The Moscow Sleepers, Rimington’s characters are realistically vivid to the point that I am certain her former colleagues must see more than small bits of themselves in her portrayals.

The international spy game is on full display, with a taste of intrigue on the side and with plots and conspiracies unfolding on both sides of the pond. Carlyle and her side kick Peggy Kinsolving pull on the loose threads to try to unravel a Russian plot to destabilize the German government with a rotating band of under-deep-cover operatives.

While it’s hard to communicate in the written word the intensity of say the “sleepers” on the TV program The Americans, Rimington does a nice job of imparting the hunt to track down the folks in play and give it a realistic feel.

The Spy Who Was Left Behind – Michael Pullara – (Scribner)

If you prefer your spy stories with more than just a dose of reality, with healthy pinch of murder mystery and a splash of tenacious, ballsy lawyer than, The Spy Who Was Left Behind, from Michael Pullara, the aforementioned testicular fortitude laden attorney, might be right up your alley.

To say that Pullara became obsessed with trying to track down the truth behind the 1993 murder of CIA branch chief Freddie Woodruff, in the crumbling former Soviet state of Georgia. At its heart this is a tale built on a frightening number of layers including the unraveling of the USSR, the U.S. trying to figure their place in the new world order, a ham fisted cover up and one man’s search for the truth.

With 20 years of material, countless interviews with KBG and CIA spies, government officials from both sides and even some newly uncovered witnesses, Pulara does a wonderful job of coherently working the story so it hangs together and moves forward at a steady pace – miraculous for a first time author.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Classy Rustic Baking

Red Truck Bakery Cookbook – Brian Noyes with Nevin Martell (Clarkson Potter)

There is an interesting story (maybe a bit too much) about the launch of the Red Truck Bakery, how a city mouse, became a country mouse and found success serving up classic, rustic baked goods and more. Brian Noyes is a newspaper man at heart, but turned his second love, baking into a successful business.

The business, Red Truck Bakery, takes its name from the lovingly restored, classic, 1954 Ford D-100 pickup truck that was purchased from designer Tommy Hilfiger, and was utilized to deliver Noyes initial forays into selling his wares. There is a heartland feel and flavor to the story and the recipes contained in the Red Truck Bakery Cookbook, that Noyes compiled with Nevin Martell.
I thought it was a nice touch that Noyes gives you the lay of the land up front, spelling out the specifics of his ingredient choices and tools of the trade; mixers, knives, cutters, etc. He also doles out some useful kitchen advice upfront, before you get too far along in the proceedings.

When you do finally bust into the goods, it runs the gamut from breakfast goodies to pies, cookies, bars, cakes and even buckles. While I can hold my own in the kitchen when it comes to main courses, I fully admit to struggling on the baking side of things, so a buckle, a streusel toped fruit-based desert was a new one for me.

By in large, I found most of the recipes pretty easy to follow and none of the ingredients were so far off the reservation that they would not be in easy reach for most bakers, with no need to special order from far flung places. The photography that accompanies the recipes are rich and beautiful. A couple of the recipes I tested won me thumbs up reviews from friends and family at the Thanksgiving festivities, so it’s likely I will be back to delve deeper into the Red Truck Bakery Cookbook.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Master of Puppets

Hangman – Daniel Cole – (ECCO)

You never know quite what to expect when you crack open a novel from a new or new to you author. I missed Daniel Cole’s, Ragdoll – so the follow up, Hangman, it’s cast of characters and storyline was totally new to me. When I delved in, there was a a not unfamiliar chill that ran up my spine. I quickly concluded that it was the same chill I felt when I cracked open Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the book that first introduced us to the Hannibal Lecter character and the precursor to Silence of the Lambs.

This is not to say that Cole has copped a Lecter-like character as much as to say that he has spun a twisted, psychological thriller that is intricate and engrossing, and is bound to have you guessing every step of the way. Cole does a masterful job of delivering devastatingly unexpected twists. Bodies begin to appear, strung up in very public places, each etched with messages carved into their chests that proclaim “Bait” or “Puppet.” The question gets posited, is the Ragdoll killer back in action or a copycat, or is it a twisted new killer.

The carnage soon moves from London to New York City with a kicked up element of terror. Irascible and cranky, Detective Emily Baxter is back in a lead role in the investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. This time she gets paired with a British expat – CIA officer – Rouche, a mysterious character chock full of contradictions and nuances. At points I was convinced that he was behind the growing body count based on his loner quality. Cole plays out just enough of his personal life, to make Rouche to be just the right amount of sympathetic.

The story plays out in twists and turns, has Cole offers up red herrings and wrong turns as to who the master of puppets really is. Things get ratcheted up with each step along the way to the very frantic close. Even experienced mystery solvers and thriller fans will be left second guessing their deductions. Cole even manages to re-bait the hook and the end, for wherever the story is going next.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Run With the Big Dogs

The Corrosion of Conservatism - Why I Left the Right - Max Boot - (Liveright Publishing)

Max Boot is a self-alleged conservative, who with the rise of then candidate and now President Donald Trump coupled with the publication of this, his latest book, The Corrosion of Conservatism; Why I Left the Right, has declared his departure from the conservative side of politics due to what he  feels is a major departure truly conservative principles. He has boldly proclaimed himself to be "A man without a party."

Boot is one of  those guys; you know the type, the one's who are so self-aware and so much smarter than you and for that matter so much smarter than anyone else. He takes a mighty swing at trying to explain his reasoning, but ends up falling drastically short. Where he does succeed is in adding his name to the seemingly never ending list  of insufferable, never-Trumper assholes like: Bill Kristol, Jeff Flake, Rick Wilson, Joe Scarborough, Ben Sasse, Jeb Bush, Bob Corker, Evan McMullen, Steve Schmidt, and on and on. Take a close look at that list and what do these clowns have in common? Aside from an astounding lack of pragmatism (seriously do they think Hilary Clinton was a better alternative?) the other commonality is they are all capital L - LOSERS. You've got to ask yourself, why would anyone seek to add their name to that list?

In play here are a couple of unrealistic viewpoints; that we just need to work in a bipartisan fashion and get along with Democrats and we will get things done and be liked by the media. It is that ridiculous, wrong, mindset that kept Republicans shackled in the minority for decades!

Boot and his fellow losers can't seem to come to grips with the fact that politics is a blood sport that needs to  be played to win and that Trump is is current holder of the equivalent of the world championship belt. It boils down to  the difference to running with the big dogs or staying on the front porch. Boot can soothe his sore feelings with invites to liberal cocktail parties, safe in the knowledge that NO one sees his multiple appearances on CNN and MSNBC. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Swap Draining Made Easy!

Donald Drains the Swamp - Eric Metaxas and Tim Raglin (Regnery Publishing)

It is a singular concept so simple, so basic to the very foundation that our country was built upon, that even a liberal should be able to understand it. Sadly they probably won't, because they will play party politics ahead of country.

In his new (children's?) book, Eric Metaxas and cartoonist Tim Raglin give  us their take on the roots of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump with, Donald Drains the Swamp, by using a parable that takes us back to the roots of our country and the immortal words of President Abraham Lincoln that ours, is a "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Metaxas sets the story against the backdrop of a group of cavemen and their King, who goes off to live in an actual swamp and while he leads, he ignores the cave-people that he rules and does his own thing, his own way. The story continues that the people he rules, rise up and bring forth a new leader to speak to the King and try to get him to understand the needs of the people.

This new intermediary is a cave builder, named Donald who builds caves envied by everyone in the land. when Donald gets gets frustrated about being ignored, he sets about digging a "huge" trench to drain the swamp. Donald he goes as far as to assure that the trench will "even come in below budget." It's a this point the people join him and help dig the trench, speeding the process of draining the swamp and in the process getting the attention of the aloof King.

This will be a fun book for your kids, but it may make the perfect gift for your annoying liberal friend who just can't quite get over the fact that Hilary Clinton lost. Bringing them to their knees and howling at the sky by slipping them a gift wrapped copy is my definition of FUN! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Don't Miss Fiction

Alright, I admit it, every once in a while I get a little behind in my reading, so I have to play catch up and so I can pass along tips on what I dub can't miss fiction. This batch of four great books certainly lives up to that mantle.

Second Strike - Peter Kirsanow (Dutton) 

Second Strike is the follow up to Peter Kirsanow's debut Target Omega which introduced hero Mike Garin to the world of thriller fiction. To say that Garin is a breast could be the definition of a beast; a hardened and well honed one man wrecking crew. Fresh off the effort to thwart a terrorist attack in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that paired Russian and Iranian evil doers, Garin tops the list of those targeted by terrorists for reprisal, placing him square in the gun sights of Russian killer Taras Bor.

Kirsanow, who has held high level federal positions, writes with a inherent insider feel that ratchets up the thrills. Garin is aided and abetted by a couple of highly trained and tough operators, Congo Knox and sniper Dan Dwyer in taking the fight to the to the  terrorists. These are the kinds of folks that will directly appeal to fans of the late Vince Flynn's, Mitch Rapp and Brad Thor's, Scot Harvath. Add to the mix the assets of a Blackwater-like military contractor and a high level national security advisor and the  book crackles with with energy. 

Nomad - James Swallow - (Forge Books) 

Countless authors and film makers have tapped into the storyline involving poor aggrieved Middle Eastern types seeking revenge against the evil west. Now add to the mix the equally familiar mole/spy in the security service and you're getting close to  the plot line of what is described as the first in the Mark Dane Series, Nomad. Dane is an interesting combination of veteran, skilled, military operator combined with a full Monty of high tech skills that has him taking a technical support role with the the MI-6 Nomad special operations team.

When an operation goes south leaving the entire Nomad team goes south, save for Dane, fingers and suspicions aimed directly at him, have him on the run trying to not only survive but to figure out who the mole inside MI-6 is. The race is on and the story moves with a solid, steady velocity once the initial ground work is laid. Swallow is a skilled British scriptwriter and this character debut slots him in as a thriller writer to reckon with. 

Add to the mix the mysterious Rubicon Group and tough as nails "security" operator Lucy Keyes, who ride to the rescue to save and aide Dane and this one sets the table for a long, happy, exciting relationship.

The Fifth to Die: A 4MK Thriller - J. D. Barker - (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) -

The mind of author J D Barker, is a dark and scary place. Back in 2017 Barker was responsible for what became one of my favorite books of the year, The Fourth Monkey. As a follow up, The Fifth To Die, Barker teases out enough bits a pieces of the one who got away, the 4MK killer to thread throughout the hunt for a new, equally devious and deranged killer.

Barker brings a level of skill at adding twist after twist to the story that you will find yourself second-guessing everything you think you have figured out. Barker skillfully engineers and hones each bit of the story line to fit perfectly together. It's easy to see why the Bram Stoker family selected Barker to pen a prequel to Dracula; this guy is that dark. If you are a veteran thriller reader who revels in the chase, trying to figure out how things come to a conclusion, then this one is right up your alley and will keep your guessing.

The Vinyl Detective: Victory Disc - Andrew Cartmel - (Titan Books) -

I love Andrew Cartmel's, Vinyl Detective Series because it appeals to everything I love to do; reading great mysteries and collecting music! This time out, the self-described Vinyl Detective and his band of lovable characters are on the hunt once again, trying to track down a World War II era Victory Disc, by the British, Flare Path Orchestra, the equivalent of the military Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Naturally there is a mysterious benefactor who hires on the VD and friends to track down these rare records and soon the hunt is on and the aging musicians from the  from the band, a prime source for tracking down the discs, start dropping like flies. Twists, turns and plenty of colorful and in some cases disturbing characters dot the landscape throughout. If you thought that WWII was over, think again, some battles are still in progress and who knew vinyl would be at the root of the fight. If you like your mysteries with a healthy dose of fun, this one is  for you.


Life In Pieces

Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life - Michael Katakis (Scribner)

I have always loved books like, Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life, the ones that tell a story not just of written words, but by weaving together photographs, letters and telegrams, notes and snippets collected over the course of a lifetime. 

I have always believed there is a thin line between a collector and a hoarder. A collector can truly live in a world of the marvelous and magical, while a hoarder lives in a world of sickness and decay. Thank God that someone had the foresight to gather this ephemera, which could have easily been discarded along the way of Hemingway's rambling, roaming life; and put together this magical collection in a way that offers new insight into the writer/adventurers life.

Given the current state of thinking on the keeping of journals among the writer community, I was struck by the fact the Hemingway did not keep a journal or diary;  he seemed like the perfect candidate for the practice. That being said, it raises the value  of the work done curating this collection by Michael Katakis, the manager of  the Hemingway estate. Katakis does a wonderful job of utilizing two way communications to detail the story in these pages; letters, notes and  telegrams to and from Hemingway, often dashed off on whatever was handy when he jotted of a note. A formal telegram from President-elect Kennedy invited Hemingway to inauguration events, coupled with the scrawled, back of steno notebook page reply of regrets due to health issues.

This book also made me a bit sad for future generations; like many I don't have a large collection of photographs, letters or cards to gather memories. To put together a collection of this type in the future we may need to package copies of SD cards, jump drives and outdated smartphones, complete with cracked screens to tell our story. We live in such a mobile, disposable society that we will lose so much of our personal history in the futile search for the next meme or viral video. Then again it got me to ponder the endless stacks of journals and notebooks in which I have scrawled millions of words on every topic imaginable and what my family would make of them as they thumbed through the pages. 

For now I will have  to be content with this amazing collection and the insights it gives this Hemingway fan, into the storied history and ramblings, both real life and on paper.