Monday, March 6, 2017

March Fiction Madness

Shining City – A Novel – Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

WOW! That was my first reaction to diving into the debut novel, Shining City, from veteran political and media observer and longtime journalist Tom Rosenstiel. Not only does Rosenstiel put to good use his years of insider knowledge of the political process, he delivers the goods with an easy, free flowing writing style.

Rosenstiel, along with Bill Kovach has authored some of the seminal books on journalism and reportage, so it is in no way surprising that Shining City has a ripped from today’s headlines feel about it. There is a sudden vacancy on the Supreme Court, (sound familiar?) and the President sees not only the opportunity to fill that slot, but to fundamentally impact the highest court in the land.

The story involves the very real feeling character Peter Rena, a political fixer, you know the guy who gets things done and his partner, Randi Brooks, a lawyer on the other side of the political aisle, or is it better side on the other side of the political divide. Rosenstiel serve up some insight into what the vetting process for a SCOTUS nominee is like. While this a slick insider’s viewpoint, it doesn’t slide off into the silliness of the TV show Scandal that can fix all the world’s problems in a 48 minute TV script.

Now throw in the curveball of a seemingly random series of murders that ratchet things up a notch and have Rena scrambling not only for answers, but to keep the nominee safe and sound. Like I said, WOW! This is a great debut and I can’t wait for Rosenstiel to hang up the reporter’s notebook and to delve full bore into being a novelist. Well done!

The Prisoner – A John Wells Novel – Alex Berenson (Putnam)

Some writers hit on a great concept, and then have the concept overwhelm the story. A great concept in the hands of other writers becomes the foundation on which that story and all future stories are built upon. NY Times reporter, Alex Berenson hit upon the simple, yet brilliant idea of a character that is an undercover agent who fights alongside the belligerents of Osama bin Laden.
That jumping off point has never overwhelmed the John Wells character, but has provided an interesting and ongoing tension to the plotlines of Berenson’s ongoing series of Wells books.

The latest entry in the series, The Prisoner finds Wells trying his hand at stepping away from his role with the CIA and even going so far as to try his hand at the domestic life and a surprise fatherhood. But like Al Pacino’s Godfather 3, just when he’s trying to get out they drag him back into the action. While Wells doesn’t dwell on his conversion to Islam while undercover, it is part of his existence. Can’t help but conjure the image of Damian Lewis’s character on the prayer rug in the garage, in the early seasons of the stellar Homeland series.

Berenson doesn’t overplay the bin Laden connection, but masterfully utilizes the internal questioning that the Wells character goes through as he tries to balance his faith with his allegiance to country. There is a great energy that propels the story forward.

Gunmetal Gray – A Gray Man Novel – Mark Greaney (Berkley)

So you think you’re having a bad day…just imagine how the Gray Man feels. The minute he steps off the plane in Hong Kong for seemed to be a pretty straight forward assignment to collect a rogue Chinese master hacker, he ends up with a couple of Chinese secret police attached to him like a magnet. His hand forced, Court Gentry has to eliminate the duo including sending one out the window of luxury hotel and that’s just the first day of this trek.

Gunmetal Gray is the sixth installment in Mark Greaney Gray Man series and it bustles along a steady, breakneck pace. Greaney gives these stories a lived in feel, playing on his international studies background and his training alongside members of the military and law enforcement.

Gentry has a history of being a one man battle group, but he’s up against apparently stacked odds with two teams of folks sent to round up the scrawny hacker have been sent, but never heard from again. Gentry has his work cut out for him; he has to get the job done and in the process free his friend Don Fitzroy from the clutches of Chinese secret police.

Toss in a couple of femme fatales to make things interesting and Greaney has spun one of his best Gray Man outings yet. 

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