Sunday, August 25, 2013

Be Careful With Too Much of a Good Thing

Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie (Macmillan Audio)

There are a handful of prerequisites, must haves, that a suspense thriller need to be successful. The starting point is a believable premise add to that a likeable lead character, a character that is easy to dislike and a handful of good old fashioned twists and turns and you’re on your way. If you happen to have the ability to toss in a couple of red herrings so the reader, or in this case the listener thinks they’ve got it all figured out even when they don’t and you’ve likely got a winner on your hands.

While she’s cranked out an armful of books including a couple of successful series, Close My Eyes, is my first exposure to the work of British author Sophie McKenzie. The setup of the premise is a successful couple, the wife an author and the husband a finance guru lose their baby at birth and it send their lives spiraling in very different directions. The wife loses her desire to write and ends up teaching part-time while the husband achieves new heights of success in his field.

Then one day comes a fateful knock on the door that changes everything. A mysterious women tells the wife, Geniver, that her baby girl didn’t die and is in fact alive and presumably out there somewhere. From there, it’s off to the races as Geniver tries to get to the bottom of what really happened to her baby.

While red herrings, false storylines that add to the tension and can throw the reader/listener off the scent of figuring out the story are great for driving tension and keeping the story moving, too much of a good thing can drive away the reader. Unfortunately, McKenzie may have overreached on the false leads; after a handful of false flags get tossed out, the ones that follow are too easy to dismiss.

Coupled with the inner turmoil and self-doubt expressed by Geniver at every turn and it puts the story off the rails. Close My Eyes still is a good story and Marissa Calin’s melodic English lilt is a good fit the passel of pip pip characters.   

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hidden Order: A Thriller – Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)

Hidden Order: A Thriller – Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)

I have held a secret, not guilty wish that somewhere out there in the world there exists a super-secret entity, to borrow a term from author Brad Thor, full black; that in which resides and works folks like Thor’s Scot Harvath or the late Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp. Tough character’s who burn with a patriotic fire and a take no prisoners attitude fighting on behalf of the United States against fundamentalist whack jobs who want to do us harm.

That being said, for this installment of the Harvath series, Hidden Order, Thor casts his hero in a new role of domestic police officer on the hunt for kidnappers/murders, bent on destruction of the U.S. economic system by systematically killing off potential heads of the Federal Reserve in a story that is interlaced with historical elements of the founding of this country.

I certainly didn’t envision Nicholas Cage playing the role of Scot Harvath, but there is an undeniable similarity between Hidden Order and Cage’s National Treasure movie series. Thor traces the roots of the formation of the Federal Reserve at a super-secret meeting of banking power brokers that took place the exclusive Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia and the tale told in G. Edward Griffin’s book The Creature From Jekyll Island.

The historical romp continues through pins on the map of the founding of the United States in and around Boston. The general feedback from Thor fans will likely include a loud and clear BUT; something to the effect of, “it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it wasn’t bad.” We’ve come to expect that Harvath with lead the charge taking out the next series of bad guy’s hell bent on causing us harm. As the world continues to turn, new chapters of bad guys will spring up and I have no doubt be taking down by Thor/Harvath.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

An Appetite for Destruction

Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways – Evelyn McDonnell (DaCapo Press)

So much ballyhoo…so much hype…so much bluster…so much regret over a band that produced nearly double the number of retrospective compilations as they did actual albums. That is the sad yet triumphant tale of a handful of California girls who were thrust together to form the at the time revolutionary all-girl band The Runaways.

It’s hard to name any other band that could generate so much attention and fan-damonium after so many lineup changes and delivering just three albums and never having a single crack the U.S. top 100 hits chart. The combination of the legend and the potential for greatness certainly outweighed the band’s output.

With Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, author Evelyn McDonnell finally tells the band’s story in rich detail and accounts for all perspectives in this oft-disputed tale. McDonnell traces the roots of the band’s formation, the direction and manipulation of their genius/cum- psychopath manager Kim Fowley and finally the band’s destruction.

While the band possessed an undeniable level of musical ability, there is an almost pre-fab, engineered, like the Monkees, quality to their saga. Fowley’s slimey fingers seem to be all over the destructive side of their story, while that innate ability seems to drive them to overcome that interference. In the end, their destruction is all but inevitable and for some in the band it is a fate they are never able to overcome.

McDonnell does a great job of cutting through to the real story, yet all too often takes off on incongruent flights of literary fantasy. I get that music critics; which is McDonnell’s background, write for other music critics to behold their awesomeness, but the story of the Runaways is one that diehard fans have been waiting to have told for so long that these flights of fancy tend to feel overly forced and detract from the tale.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Old Weird Neil's Stream of Consciousness

Waging Heavy Peace – A Hippie Dream – Neil Young (Plume)

To corrupt a line from an old financial services company commercial; Neil Young got his nickname, “Old Weird Neil” the old fashioned way…he earned it! A rock ‘n’ roll hall of famer, Young has released a paperback version of his book Waging Heavy Peace – A Hippie Dream.

Not an autobiography, not really a musical history, or even a Neil Young manifesto; Waging Heavy Peace can best be described as a no holds barred journey into the mind of what can best be described as a genius or a lunatic, depending on your point of view.

Young lets it all hang out with anecdotes from his musical, spiritual, geographic, and innovative journey. He uses the literary equivalent of a pinball machine approach to telling his tale; forget chronology this one takes on a whatever comes into my head at that moment ends up on page style.

When you look at the breadth and width of Neil Young’s career as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and as a solo performer who has spanned everything from powerful straight ahead rock, solo acoustic, rockabilly and even electronic music, it shouldn’t be surprising that his life is full of entertaining and at times mystifying tales.

A skilled artist and songwriter; Young is also an inventor and innovator who has tried his hand at a wide range of projects that he writes about in loving detail. Not for the faint of heart,  Waging Heavy Peace is a candid portrait of unique individual.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Masters of Thrill

Eye For An Eye – Ben Coes (St. Martin’s Press)

There is an almost built in inevitability that author Ben Coes work will draw comparisons to that of authors like Brad Thor and the late Vince Flynn. All three have succeeded in creating larger than life characters who not only are at the center of their storylines, but who literally drive the action that takes place in their thrillers.

Pace is what separates the men from the boys when it comes to writing a great thriller and Coes once again does a masterful job of delivering pages that demand to be turned. Coes lead character, Dewey Andreas is back in full force, delivering the dish that is best served cold; revenge!

While he’s not the first author to use the revenge factor, and he certainly won’t be the last, Coes’ Eye For An Eye serves up tit-for-tat exchanges between Andreas and the head of China’s ministry of intelligence Fao Bhang.  Picking up the thread from The Last Refuge, Coes last outing, Andreas breaks a terror mastermind during an interrogation and delivers a Chinese mole to the Israeli Mossad. When the Israeli’s turn the mole into a special birthday surprise for the Chinese premier’s granddaughter, complete with a large ribbon and an ax to the skull, the story is off to the races.

Some may complain that Eye for An Eye stretches its grip on reality, but in the end this is a thriller, it’s supposed to be chock full of super human action, cool spy guy and heroic feats. Coes delivers all that and more and earns his spot among the masters of thrill.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Knights in a New Light

Templar – Jordan Mechner, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland (First Second Books)

Full confession. I am an utter newbie when it comes to the world of graphic novels. A couple of year ago I came on a nice collection of graphic novels, a mix of things, dominated by a large number of the Hellboy series at of all things a church rummage sale (hello irony) and I thought my son might be interested. Since I could get the whole set for a ridiculous price, I bought them.

For years I had thought graphic novels were simply comic books on steroids. When I thumbed through the books, I was amazed at the level of skill not only of the artists, but of the writers. Granted I wasn’t going to find a new slice of classic literature, but there was a level of skill to hold the storyline together and stand up to the work of the artists.

That brings me to Templar by writer Jordan Mechner, and artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland. The story of the Knights Templar has been tackled not only by historians but by any number of poplar fiction authors, most notably Dan Brown. So it seems like a natural leap that a skilled writer and artists team would take a run at the Templar story.

Mechner and company have done a spectacular job of pulling together an epic tale of adventure featuring the usual suspects of love, treasure and battle.  Here, the Templar reign is coming to an end as they are rounded up in France; a of the band  manage to escape arrest and the story is off and running.

The characters are well drawn, both in the written and art sense. The storyline carries a nice mix of action and adventure with a touch of romance and just the right amount of comic relief. Mechner captures the historical period well and this 470 page tome has the perfect feel of an epic adventure.