Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dopey News

How to be a Perfect Christian – The Babylon Bee (Multonomah)

I say this with all of the possible human kindness I can muster when I proclaim that How to Be a Perfect Christian, by the Babylon Bee, is all the proof we could ever need that the United States has a surplus of paper and ink.

Why else would someone have bothered to take the time and effort to design, print and bind this horrendously stupid drivel?

Alleged to be satire, it reads like a couple of junior high school halfwits, who think they are in the running to be voted Most Humorous, got together with a 12 pack of Mountain Dew and a couple of bags of Funions and decided to throw some funny down on paper…and failed…miserably.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Decapitation Strike

Direct Fire: A Jake Mahegan Thriller – A J Tata – (Kensington)
Retired Army Brigadier General and combat vet, A J Tata’s new entry in the Jake Mahegan series, Direct Fire reads with a been there done that authenticity and the terrorist decapitation strike at all levels of business, government and the military comes off like some worst nightmare scenario dreamed up by a Red Team.

The pacing will give you blisters and you won’t need to hang around long for the action to kick into overdrive. Mahegan receives a distress call from his commander and dashes headlong into an ambush and from there things really start to ratchet up and get busy.

The terrorists are on our shores and working out of the heartland of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you weren’t flying by the seat of them, this scenario might just scare the pants off of you. The cliché goes something like; revenge is a dish best served cold and this bunch of terrorists are holding a grudge and are out to topple the United States from every angle. Tata uses misdirection and plenty of twists to keep you guessing as the story cranks along.

The compelling characters have a lived in feel and tough-talking confidence that they can get the job done. Tata will find a comfortable place on my shelf next to Flynn, Thor and Clancy.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Thrilling Start

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland – (Ballantine Books)

One of the most used old saws about writing is “write what you know” and former CIA analyst Karen Cleveland seems to have taken that t heart while penning her first novel, Need to Know.

Cleveland skillfully, almost frustratingly, dangles the bait early and often in the book and then almost as an act of mercy, in chapter three she sets the bait. Imagine, you’re working as a CIA analyst, chipping away at trying to track down Russian spies and their handlers and when you finally get a breakthrough in the form of a cyber key that opens the door to a network of spies and when you look behind door number one, you are confronted with a image of your husband.

When confronted directly with the question of all questions, there is no obfuscation, no shocked denial, just a simple acknowledgement that his is indeed a spy. Take a little bit of The Blacklist, shake it with a touch of the movie Salt, and cook up a debut thriller that has plenty of twists and turns, some expected, some not and you have the makings of a very quick read.

You may find yourself uttering, “I didn’t see that coming” and then with further thought the quick follow up, “yeah that makes sense.” Cleveland walks the fine line between leavening the action with just enough background/family info to keep the story chugging to a conclusion that sets the table nicely for the sequel.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fiction To Heat Up A Cold Winter

As we prepare in my neck of the woods for yet another blast of icy cold from Mother Nature, I find there’s nothing better than tossing another log on the fire and grabbing a good book to take the chill off. This winter as provided us with great reads from reliable veterans and newcomers alike.

Death at Nuremberg (A Clandestine Operations Novel) – W. E. B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth – (G P Putnam)

W. E. B. Griffin and writing partner William E. Butterworth easily fall into that reliable category with the latest entry, the fourth, in their ongoing Clandestine Operations series, Death at Nuremberg. While I’ve read a number of Griffin’s books from various series, I am not a completist of his work, so while regular readers may be put off by the volume of background and carryover from prior books in the series. It worked for me to get me quickly and easily up to speed and not leave me wondering who many of these characters are and what they had already done.

Safe in the knowledge of that detail it was easy for me to track through the current story of special agent James Cronley, Jr. as he gets tossed into yet another turbulent situation as he charged with protecting the U.S. chief military prosecutor at the infamous Nuremberg war crimes trials following WWII. Griffin and Butterworth toss in some clever traps along the way that will keep you and Cronley guessing as to what’s actually afoot.

Is it the Soviet Union’s NKGB or the equally infamous Odessa organization who tried to smuggle Nazi war criminals out of post-war Germany that are behind the nefarious plot? The pair weave a great story that takes us back to the amazing crossroad that mixes the nasty remains of the great War, the start of the Cold War tensions that would chew through decades of diplomatic chess matches and billions of dollars and the start of the spy organization that would wage the struggle. This is great read that delivers on the authenticity of the comings and goings of that time.

The Chalk Man: A Novel – C. J. Tudor (Crown)

I can’t quite put my finger on it; there is just something about the debuts British fiction writers that seem to capture my attention and suck me in hook, line and sinker. A couple of years back there was The Widow by Fiona Barton and Written in Dead Wax, from Andrew Cartmel’s excellent, The Vinyl Detective series. You’re never quite sure where the story is going, but you know you just want to be along for the ride.

That is the hallmark of C. J. Tudor’s debut The Chalk Man. As Tudor set the table, laying out the characters, the places and the direction the story would go you can see the makings of something truly great. I admit at times there was a sense of “hurry up and get on with it” but, that may be the magic of what makes this book tick and percolate forward.

Then there is those didn’t see that coming moments that will not only shock and jolt you, but will have you hanging on to see what happens next. Soon enough you’re elbow deep in the story and simply along for the ride. Tudor sets the tone early, describing a seemingly ordinary, blissful scene at a town fair that gets ripped apart when a piece rickety traveling carnival ride break free and hurtles into a beautiful, young girl, and hurls our main character into a nightmarish rescue operation.

Tudor does a nice job of balancing the dueling, decades apart, story lines that bounce between 1986 and 2016. There is a vivid, visual quality to Tudor’s writing that evidence her background in script writing and will make it clear that this story belongs on the big screen.

Two Kinds of Truth (A Harry Bosch Novel) – Michael Connelly – (Little Brown)

Michael Connelly is a true master. Along the way he has managed to create some of the most memorable and colorful characters in crime fiction. He takes those living and breathing fictional creations and breathes life into the stories he populates with them to the point where you as a reader develop an empathy towards them and can relate to the struggles they face.

Harry Bosch is one of those brilliant creations and Connelly once again manages to ensnare him into a pair of running storylines that serve up the best of what make Bosch tick. In Two Kinds of Truth Bosch is plodding along, working cold cases for the San Fernando PD almost as a hobby more than a career, when he gets sucked into a very real, very current double homicide that the understaffed, inexperience SFPD isn’t really prepared to handle.

Then comes the hook that Bosch gets jammed up on an old murder case from his past, that has a wannabe actor appealing a murder conviction from death row as his clock ticks down. This is Connelly and Bosch at their best; smart ass, wise cracking, follow your gut and figure it all out by the end of 417 pages. Connelly uses his master’s touch to weave past partners, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller and a cast of colorful folks into the story, making this an almost perfect way to kill a cold winter’s night.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Hunt is On

The Wanted: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel – Robert Crais (G. P. Putnam)
Someone is robbing rich people. Unfortunately for them, they robbed the wrong rich person and took the wrong thing. Now, the hunt is an and it’s a race to see who can find the robbers first.

That really sums up the latest Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, The Wanted from veteran thriller writer Robert Crais. The Wanted is chock full of disparate and desperate characters, each colorful in their own unique way. Cole is hired by a desperate mom, just trying to get to the bottom of the story behind some high end goods she finds in her troubled teen’s bedroom.

Elvis does what he does best in trying to pull together the pieces of the story and find her missing son and a pair of troublesome teen partners in crime. The problem is every step of the way a pair of bad guys hired by an aggrieved billionaire, “one big, the other one bigger” who seem to be one step ahead of him while pulling on the threads of the story and trying to track down the erstwhile criminals.

While it’s been a while since I’ve worked my way through a Crais novel, I found this one just about right; a quick read perfect for this time of year when you don’t want to get into something too heavy. For me it ticked all the boxes; good story, entertaining characters and just enough unexpected twists and turns to hold my attention right through the final pages.