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Police by Jo Nesbo
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
There are not many crime fiction/thriller writers in the world more talented than Oslo, Norway’s Jo Nesbo. He is one of the few writers who consistently have produced suspenseful and compulsively readable novels in this genre and I cannot name another writer who has always received five out of five stars from me with each successive release.
At the end of the previous Jo Nesbo thriller, PHANTOM, his anti-hero Harry Hole was badly injured and left for dead at the hands of a driven and insane young man he referred to as ‘son’. When the latest novel, POLICE, opens we find Harry’s old squad faced with the most horrific killer they have ever met --- and are at a complete loss at how to stop this maniac.
It looks like this latest serial killer is targeting the police themselves. More importantly, the killer is victimizing specific law enforcement personnel that had direct relation to an unclosed cold case. It is as if the killer is seeking his own brand of justice and blames these members of the Oslo police squad who in their mind dropped the ball and let other killers go unpunished.
Nesbo does a terrific job of misdirection as readers will be squirming in their seats waiting to find out what happened to Harry Hole after the end of the previous novel. There is coverage given to an unnamed man in a coma at the local hospital lying in a room that is under constant police watch. Could this be our hero Harry?
Without giving too much away, Nesbo eventually lifts the veil of secrecy and we find Harry Hole continuing on in a new role. No longer a member of the Oslo police squad, Harry now works as an instructor to college students studying law enforcement and seeking to gain insight from his first-hand experience.
Meanwhile, as the police body count continues to rise, Harry’s old squad reluctantly reaches out to him for help. In the role of consultant, Harry is able to shine a light on the case at hand without the burden of the politics that literally drove him to drink while operating as a full-time investigator. The only problem is that as he sees some of his former colleagues perish at the hands of this ruthless killer he has no idea whether or not this killer is targeting Harry himself for a past case that may have gone unsolved.
As a writer, there is seemingly nothing Jo Nesbo cannot do. The Harry Hole series remains fresh and is written so well that it is impossible to stay one step ahead of either Nesbo or his protagonists. POLICE is an instant classic and one that will keep readers guessing right up to the final chapter.
The October List by Jeffery Deaver
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
THE OCTOBER LIST is a brilliant concept crime thriller and perhaps the most challenging and difficult novel Jeffery Deaver has ever written. The ‘gimmick’ per se is the fact that the novel is written backwards with the action unraveling in reverse order.
This type of story-telling has been seen on film --- the stunning ‘Memento’ --- and other movies with non-linear plot-lines like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ’21 Grams’. Using the word gimmick reduces the accomplishment and I want to ensure readers that Deaver has worked especially hard to pull this feat off.
The novel begins --- or ends --- with a woman named Gabriela McKenzie scrambling to find a mysterious list entitled the October List. The contents of said list are never fully explained but it is understood that if the information and names on this list fall into the wrong hands something terrible will happen.
Gabriela works for an investment firm named after and run by Charles Prescott. Prescott has allegedly disappeared and taken with him all of the firms money and assets. This not only leaves his employees like Gabriela out in the cold but also makes finding the October List that much more important. The people who want this list will stop at nothing and have kidnapped Gabriela’s young daughter, Sarah. She is given 30 hours to find and deliver the October List along with half a million dollars in ransom money.
Along the way, Gabriela meets up with a man named Daniel Reardon. Reardon is young, flashy and very wealthy. He flaunts his wealth and influence and introduces himself to Gabriela in a bar where he indicates he works for a firm called The Norwalk Fund. He is instantly swept into the drama of Gabriela’s kidnapping crisis and offers his services and influence in helping to get Sarah safely returned.
The plot twists and turns as Gabriela and Daniel seem to be pursued by everyone from NYPD Detectives to other nameless villains that are also seeing the mysterious October List. A twisted and extremely odd villainous character named Joseph is the representative for the people that have kidnapped Sarah and demands the list in exchange for her safe return. When the deadline for the thirty hours come up, Gabriela and Daniel (along with some of his Norwalk Fund colleagues) are faced with the reality that they are unable to fully deliver on the demands made by the kidnappers.
To delve any further into this story would give away too much. My advice is that any reader of this short but challenging work needs to pay very close attention to every detail and character. Watching the story unwind in reverse order is a thing of beauty and what seemingly is a standard kidnapping thriller turns into something far more complex as certain key plot twists will absolutely rock the readers world! Deaver admits he got the idea for the novel from Stephen Sondheim and his play Merrily We Roll which starts in the present and then moves backwards. Whatever his muse may be, Deaver can proudly state that he has created an original and highly intelligent thriller that will be hard to forget once the last (first) page is turned!
Pagan Spring by G. M. Malliet
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
Following Wicked Autumn and A Fatal Winter, Pagan Spring revisits the quaint English village populated by curious people whose families settled in Nether Monkslip generations before but appreciate the comparatively recent arrival of the good-looking, nonjudgmental Anglican priest, Father Max Tudor. Max relishes the quiet life, fondly looks after the children whose births celebrate the marriages of those joined by Max, and has comfortably made himself part of the fabric of the daily life filled with the requirements of the church calendar and a booming house of worship. Of course, Max knows that each villager hides secrets, Max—a former MI-5 agent—included.
Opening with vignettes from the inhabitants’ daily routines in the local beauty salon to lunch at the vicarage and interspersed with emails from a new resident to a dear family member in France, Pagan Spring centers on the well-known actor and playwright Thaddeus Bottle and his wife, Melinda, both of whom recently moved from London. Thaddeus’s pomposity turns off many of those in Nether Monkslip but Melinda has quietly become part of the local scene, joining groups, visiting the beauty shop religiously and supporting local stores by shopping endlessly. They’ve even moved into Thaddeus’ modest childhood home, carelessly enlarging it and filling it with remnants of their glamorous former lives.
After Thaddeus dies mysteriously in their great monstrosity, the decades-younger Melinda quickly falls under suspicion, her incompetence drawing Max into the investigation. Fortunately for Melinda, Max asks his thoughtful friend Detective Constable Inspector Cotton from Monkslip-super-Mare to investigate rather than the inept bobby assigned to the village. In the meantime, a group of local women parse through what they’ve heard at the beauty shop and agree to conduct their own informal investigation to help Max, whose previous adventures have shown him to be both observant and fair.
While the mystery takes precedence, series’ followers will enjoy the exchanges in the last third of the book between Max and Awena, his pagan girlfriend who easily retains her independence even as she and Max dance around the parameters in their unusual relationship. Lovely, welcoming and thoroughly enjoyable, Pagan Spring embodies the spirit of the villagers while acknowledging the painful secrets we all hold close.
Thankless In Death by J D Robb
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Thanksgiving is nearly here and Lt Eve Dallas is looking forward to it with some apprehension. Her rich and handsome husband has invited a mob of his recently-discovered Irish relatives to their home and Eve is feeling a bit overwhelmed. Not that she’s going to have to cook a turkey—major domo Summerset will have seen to the feeding of the multitude with his usual skill—no, it’s more a case of Eve’s awareness of her lack of people skills: just what does one say about the new baby as it is thrust upon one?
Murder can always be counted upon to be an uninvited guest in any of Eve and Roarke’s plans, and this Thanksgiving is no different. A modest middle class family is found slaughtered and for a while it looks as if the son may have been kidnapped as well. Shortly thereafter it becomes apparent that the son is in fact the killer, and that not only has he punished his parents for expecting him to grow up and become responsible, he’s on a dark crusade to pay back every slight he’s ever suffered, in horrifically inventive ways.
Unlike some of Robb’s previous futuristic crime novels, in this one we know the identity of the killer from the start. The interest lies in Eve’s desperate struggle to think a step ahead of the killer—she knows what he’s up to, but which of the many possible candidates for murder will he choose next?
The focus in this novel is much tighter than in some previous volumes in the series: very few of the usual repertory company get more than a passing glance: this is mainly about Eve and the killer, and whether or not Eve can bring the him to justice in time to relax and enjoy the holiday and the family.
Jerry Reinhold is one of the nastiest of Robb’s recent characters; if there’s any redeeming feature in this spoilt brat murderer, she’s hidden it well. Despite that, Robb’s managed to inject some cosy family fun into the story to keep it from becoming totally depressing.
Rasputin’s Shadow by Raymond Khoury
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
In the history of Russian and Russian-based literature there has probably been no individual more written about than the infamous Grigory Rasputin. He is referenced so often you would think he was a fictional character like Tom Sawyer or Sherlock Holmes. The main reason for this literary prominence is the oft-rumored belief that it was impossible to kill Rasputin.
In the latest Raymond Khoury novel featuring FBI Agent Sean Reilly, Grigory Rasputin plays a primary role. Although there is reference to Rasputin’s inate durability that is not the main reason he is a central character in RASPUTIN’S SHADOW. This thriller opens up with a horrific incident alleged to have taken place in a Russian mine on a cold, bleak day in 1916.
Rasputin and a horrified scientist named Misha utilize a sinister device that has the ability to turn people into mindless, ravenous savages. They experiment with this device on the inhabitants of the mine and the results are so horrific they are forced to detonate explosives to bury the mine and hide the remains of the carnage they have created.
RASPUTIN’S SHADOW then takes us to modern day Queens, NY, where a Russian embassy attaché appears to have leaped to his death from a fourth-story apartment. The owner of the apartment, a man by the name of Leo Sokolov, is nowhere to be found. Sokolov is a retired physics teacher and there is initially no clue as to what the relationship is between himself and the deceased.
Sean Reilly teams with an NYPD detective on this case. As they begin to dig further they turn up evidence that Sokolov may not be just a mere High School teacher. Sokolov is also being pursued by some other people who have particular interest in the device he may be in possession of --- the very same device allegedly owned by Rasputin himself. As the investigation continues Reilly crosses paths with Russian FSB agent Larisa Sokolova.
Sokolova knows what Leo Sokolov has in his possession and as she shares some of the nefarious history with Reilly they both join forces to track Leo and the device down. The shadowy group that is also in pursuit of the device has specific intentions on when and where to use it. If they are successful the results could have serious implications on the political landscape of the planet.
RASPUTIN’S SHADOW continues Raymond Khoury’s fine work in the field of historical based thrillers. While not on par with his prior efforts, this is still a highly readable novel that demands for a film adaptation.
Killing a Cold One by Joseph Heywood
Publisher: Lyons Press
Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader
Grady Service is a conservation officer in Michigan. He has long law enforcement career that included several years as a state trooper in the tough streets of Detroit and a period as the chief conservation officer for the state. Service just wants to return to patrolling the Mosquito Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula (UP). However a killer changes things as does a call from the governor directing Service to take charge of an investigation into a local legion known as “The Dogman”.
Service’s investigation takes two paths. One leads to “dire wolves” – a species thought long to be extinct. Then other leads to a Native American legion called ‘the windigo” – a psychopath believing themselves to be werewolf or other beast.
Service’s progress is hindered by weather, uncooperative Native Americans and a self-serving professor who may be the most expert help on the windigo.
The plot is complicated and may require rereading of sections of the book. Fortunately, when an FBI profiler is brought into the cases, the author has the characters review much of the hunt and victims for her benefit.
The author’s greatest gifts seem to focus upon interesting and eccentric characters as well as snappy dialogue. Noonan, the retired homicide detective from Detroit recruited by Service, is memorable and humorous.
The book is well-written and enjoyable if a little bit of task to finish at nearly four hundred pages.
The Quest by Nelson DeMille
Publisher: Center Street/Hatchette
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Some filmmakers are remaking past successes—often not as well—rather than chance a new film with a new idea. It was only a matter of time before this notion bled over into the book world.
Nelson DeMille wrote “The Quest” 40 years ago. Recently he decided to expand it and republish it. In his acknowledgement page he says a friend suggested that the original book didn’t have enough sex or romance and helped him remedy that lack. Presumably another friend told him it didn’t have enough torture and sadism, because there is plenty of that in the book’s new iteration.
In essence, this book is another in a long line of Holy Grail quest books. It’s quite fast-moving and colourful, but not anything like as funny as the Monty Python version, as entertaining as Indiana Jones, nor as uplifting as Mallory’s interpretation of the legend. The story starts with the escape of an aged Italian priest who’s been imprisoned in Ethiopia since the fall of the royal family in the 1970’s. Frank Purcell, Henry Mercado and Vivian Smith find the old man dying and hear just enough to set them on The Quest, the hunt for the original cup of the Last Supper.
With the aid of Colonel Gann, a stiff-upper-lip British officer, the three adventurers set off to find the monastery made of black stone which allegedly houses the Grail. They go through dreadful privations, escape death by the proverbial tooth-skin many times, witness horrors that you’d think would put them off any future attempts, and eventually find their way to what they think they are looking for. After an odd bit of Otherworldliness which seems mandatory in any Grail story, they leave.
I don’t know how to rate this book. It has a much-used premise, which is no reason not to like it—somebody once said there are only about 6 plots in all of literature. The writing is for the most part up to DeMille’s usual standard, which is considerably better than most popular fiction. There’s a fair dollop of modern East African history, much of it real and some of it fictionalised. But I was unable to form any rapport with the three lead characters, and I found the book oddly unsatisfying and disjointed in spots. It was hard to believe that after all they had gone through, the three protagonists could loll around Rome with no apparent ill-effects. The minute I saw Henry Mercado’s name I expected to find a connection from him to the Queen of Sheba, Makada as the Ethiopians called her. Perhaps I missed it when I was skipping over some of the gorier parts of the novel, or perhaps his last name was an accidental and unconscious linkage by the author and not meant to connect to anything. Colonel Gann and his Princess I found to be more likeable and believable characters.
The book will no doubt sell a gazillion copies on the strength of DeMille’s reputation alone, and it’s certain that there will be many worse books offered for sale this year, many of them touted as best-sellers. Perhaps I’m just having an off-week; you must form your own opinion.
Robert B. Parker’s Damned If You Do by Michael Brandman
Reviewed by Don Crouch for New Mystery Reader
With the apparent end of the movie series, novels would be your one and only media for your Jesse Stone updates.
Damned If You Do is Brandman in full charge of the franchise, doing his level best, surely, to carry forth the ideals and characters Parker created.
As we join events, Jesse is called to a sleazy motel homicide. Knowing Jesse as you do, you’ll not be surprised when he takes a special interest in this one. As the trail leads to prostitution, so also to Gino Fish. Their encounters are always fun. Go ahead, visualize Selleck and Sadler, it’s fun, too.
But where this book lives and breathes is the other plot, involving Donnie Jacobs and Golden Horizons retirement village. This is clearly what Brandman wants us to pay attention to....conditions in too many facilities are lacking, and that’s before the expected rush on them in the coming years. It’s a compelling thread to the book that gives Jesse lots of chances to kick righteous ass.
The murder case puts Jesse right in the cross-hairs of a couple of feuding pimps, also bringing some great action opportunities, and introducing us to Clarice Edgerson, one of Brandman’s most fully-formed characters. She figures into the prostitution side of things, but does so with a pathos that hooks us in right away. The relationship between her and Jesse is strangely touching, and it’s one of the best parts of Damned If You Do.
Brandman touches the other bases—Paradise cops, Capt. Healy, girls—efficiently enough, we’re always glad to see them.
New readers will have no problem, Brandman always does a good job of status-setting. Longtime Stoners will find much to like, and some to be annoyed with. It happens.
All considered, Damned If You Do is a solid step forward for Brandman, and bodes well for his continued progress with the series.
Never Go Back by Lee Child
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
With the release of the 18th novel in the best-selling Jack Reacher series author Lee Child faces two distinct challenges. The first is to keep fans of this prolific series interested in the gritty and mysterious title character. The second is to make those same fans forget the recent release of the film entitled “Jack Reacher” whereby the beloved six and one-half foot title character was portrayed by the diminutive actor, Tom Cruise.
Following the abysmal reviews of the Reacher film (and the horrifying news that all of Lee Child’s novels have been optioned for film adaptations) the new release entitled NEVER GO BACK is a welcome breath of fresh air for readers of this series. What Lee Child has accomplished over eighteen novels is nothing short of a triumph. Not only does the series remain gritty and interesting but the character of Jack Reacher still is a mystery.
Most readers, myself included, probably relish the fact that you never really feel like you know or understand Reacher and this fact makes him that much more intriguing. In NEVER GO BACK, he faces probably his toughest enemy to date --- the U.S. Government. This enemy is particularly daunting because with all the years of service former military cop Jack Reacher gave to his country the members of government who are out to get him remain faceless to him throughout most of the novel. Their reasons for wanting to besmirch his good name and years of service are equally untenable.
The novel begins with Reacher being summoned from his South Dakota locale to northeastern Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. This is the location of his former headquarters the 110th M.P. This unit office may be the closest thing to a home Reacher has ever had and he responds to the request to report there without hesitation.
What he is met with upon arrival is quite alarming. Rather than the expected VIP treatment, Reacher is met with not one but two suits --- either of which can find him doing hard time in military prison. The first is an assault charge leveled against him for a case that is 16-years-old and involves the alleged roughing up of a gang target who went by the handle of Big Dog. The second is a paternity suit whereby Reacher finds out he may be the father of a 14-year-old girl in California.
Reacher is scheduled to meet with the current C.O. of the 110th, a Major Susan Turner. He is surprised to find that someone by the name of Morgan is occupying Turner’s office. The reason for the exchange is that Turner herself is in custody on far more serious charges than those facing Reacher. She allegedly is behind the death of two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and faces both court-martial and imprisonment. Reacher is as suspect of Turner’s incarceration as he is of the charges he is facing and takes matters into his own hands (as only Jack Reacher can). He stages a ‘jail break’ of Turner and takes off with her into the night.