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Fall From Grace by Richard North Patterson

Publisher: Scribner

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Author Richard North Patterson began his career penning legal thrillers and living in the shadow of John Grisham.  These novels were incredibly readable and solid stories but did not set him apart from the rest of the writers in this crowded genre.

Over the past decade or so, Patterson has reinvented himself by churning out novel after novel each with its own unique story and entirely indefinable as far as genre specifications.  His latest novel, FALL FROM GRACE, continues this pattern.  With this novel, Richard North Patterson enters into the territory of familial angst and dysfunction comparable to the writings of, say, Jonathan Franzen.

Of course, there is an air of mystery and intrigue about FALL FROM GRACE which makes it clearly a Richard North Patterson novel.  When covert CIA operative, Adam Blaine, is called back from his overseas mission to attend his father’s funeral on Martha’s Vineyard he does so with trepidation.  He did not have an easy relationship with his father, Ben, himself a best-selling writer.

To make matters interesting, Ben was fighting cancer as well as a seriously late mid-life crisis that caused him to leave his wife for a downtrodden Hollywood actress, currently drying out on the Vineyard.  However, Ben Blaine did not die of natural causes.  It appears that he either threw himself off of or was thrown from a cliff --- his body shattering on the rocks below.  Too many possible suspects for the police to consider or simply a matter of a man choosing quick over slow death?

Adam Blaine is executor of his father’s estate and the only family member mentioned in the will.  The bulk of his estate, and his father’s home, being left to his Hollywood mistress --- Carla Pacelli.  It also turns out that Carla is pregnant with Ben’s child --- somehow justifying the multi-million dollar windfall being left to them via his will.

Adam has more to deal with than simply sorting out the will.  His brother, Teddy, lives an alternative lifestyle and has always been the object of his late father’s wrath.  Ben’s brother, Jack, never had any children of his own and yet was somehow always resented by Ben.  Adam’s mother, Clarice, seems to be hiding some dark secret that has made her completely docile in her refusal to fight her late husband’s will.

The set-up is pretty standard soap opera and there are a few surprises.  I always enjoy Richard North Patterson’s work --- but he misses the mark a bit with FALL FROM GRACE. None of the characters are very likable --- which makes it difficult for the reader to feel any empathy for any of them.  Also, you keep waiting for Adam’s secret CIA skills to surface during his personal investigation into his father’s past --- but they never really do.  Overall, a good read --- but you would be just as satisfied watching a rerun of ‘Dallas” on TV Land.

 

 

 

Phantom by Ted Bell

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

Ted Bell has had the luxury of jumping directly into the swashbuckling craze with his protagonist, Alex Hawke.  Alex is cut right out of the Captain Jack Sparrow meets Indiana Jones meets James Bond mold --- much to the delight of readers of this exciting series.

PHANTOM starts right up with a terrorist attack at, of all places, Walt Disney World in Florida.  It’s one thing to attack buildings and landmark but something completely different to unleash a deadly hate attack against a global mecca of tourism with thousands of children present.

Counterspy Alex Hawke needs to spring into action.  However, he is tasked early on in this novel with some personal issues he must deal with. Specifically, he has met his estranged lover in Russia and is literally handed their ‘lovechild’ to care for.  In a comic moment, Alex is forced to deal with feeding the hungry infant on a Russian train --- something James Bond never had to do!

As Alex is brought into the facts of the terrorist attack in the U.S.A. the face of the evil deed is revealed.  Villainous Iranian Artificial Intelligence scientist Darius Saffari has created the world’s first ultra-intelligent machine.  Backed by seemingly unlimited funds and resources from various terrorist factions, Saffari and his unstoppable weapon are poised to take down the Western world and their allies piece by piece.

Alex is already coming off a highly dangerous hostage rescue mission at a secret KGB training facility only to find that his newest mission might be the most threatening of his career.  He links up with allies from previous novels in the series --- such as MI-6 agent Ambrose Congreve --- and he and his team of counter-spy’s begin a whirlwind global run to stop Saffari before he can harm more innocent people.

It seems to be a losing battle.  An American cruise ship is sunk by a commandeered Russian sub; a series of U.S. anti-ballistic missiles detonate for no reason within their silos.  Then comes the biggest strike --- a USAF F-15 that was escorting Air Force One opens fire on the plane with the President aboard.

The international hunt takes Alex from country to county in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the enemy.  As skilled as he and his colleagues are, they may be no match for this super-human weapon that seems to be in total control.  The climatic face-off in the Persian Gulf between Alex and a series of Iranian warships will have readers on the edge of their seat.

PHANTOM is filled with cutting edge science and military intrigue that will cause readers many sleepless nights.  Ted Bell is at the top of his game and fully utilizing his skills as Visiting Scholar and Writer-In-Residence at Cambridge University by creating a timely and nerve-wracking thriller that pulls no punches.

 

 

 

 

Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (also in Paperback)   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This latest outing for my favourite baker, Corinna Chapman of “Earthly Delights” bakery, gives her a chance to combine her cooking skills with her former life as an accountant as she tries to help her lover Daniel track down a bundle of bearer bonds that’s gone astray.

Daniel’s client, young overweight, unhappy Lena, works for a big accounting firm.  When she was sent off on a wild goose chase by her boss, the bearer bonds she was conveying were stolen while she phoned for help.  Corinna feels some sympathy for the girl; she, too, was one a young, plump, unhappy accountancy intern.  She finds it odd that a big important firm would send a parcel of negotiable bonds into the town with a green apprentice: could there be more to this mystery than initially appears?  Who profits if the bonds never resurface?

Daniel quickly tracks the bonds to a homeless man, but learning what he did with them proves an exercise in literary gymnastics.  All he has to go on is a grubby piece of paper with a few lines of doggerel on it.  Luckily Corinna knows just about every child’s skipping rope verse that ever existed, and helps Daniel track down one clue after another until they come up against the unsolvable final puzzle posed by the Grim Reaper.

It’s not that Corinna didn’t already have plenty to keep her busy.  Ostensibly on holidays, she’s been roped in to do some extra baking by an old school enemy.  Thomasina-called-Tommy runs Maitresse, an up-market catering firm that’s been hired to feed the television cast and crew of a soap opera, “Kiss the Bride”.  Corinna discovers that the world of television is a far cry from the gloss and glam you see on the screen.  Most of the actors hate each other, and the technical crew is ready to open its collective veins due to problems ranging from excessive noise to Olympic-grade hissy fits by the leading lady.

Added to this is the activity of a prankster who’s putting hot sauce in the lip gloss; a missing baby which may or may not be a figment of the star’s imagination; a terrible misunderstanding between Corinna and her apprentice Jason; and some extremely unfriendly shadowy figures who are willing to murder people to cover up big business bad deeds.  Oh, yes: I forgot the tiger.

Although much of the action takes place on the television set or behind its scenes, Corinna does spend some time at home in her Roman-style apartment building talking to her interestingly eccentric neighbours, including white witch Meroë, the Professor, the aristocratic Mrs Dawson, Trudy the gin-toping gardener and a supporting cast of felines.

My only complaint is the dearth of recipes after being tantalised by descriptions of food in every chapter of the story.  There are three at the end of the book, but you can go to the Earthly Delights website for more,  www.earthlydelights.net.au .  Author/cook Greenwood’s opinions about things such as white chocolate, cochineal and jamsetta are worth the visit even if you don’t try her recipes!

 

 

The Expats by Chris Navone

Publisher: Crown

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Just in time for the latest political skirmish in the “Mommy Wars,” The Expats describes the life of a woman who has given up her secretive, deadly role as a CIA operative in return for being a stay-at-home wife and mother to two boys.  Rather than staying in her suburban house with her IT husband Dexter, Kate Moore jumps at the chance to move her entire family to Luxembourg after Dexter’s business transfer.  Cutting all ties to the CIA, Kate changes her name from Katherine (or Kat) to Kate and ditches her maiden name, which appropriately enough, is never mentioned. 

While the idea of living as a European housewife sounded somewhat romantic stateside, Kate’s new life of relentless drudgery centered around housework and catering to the whims of her two young boys inspire fond memories of her old life as an operative with blood on her hands.  Making things worse, Dexter’s promise of plenty of family time devolves into long hours at the office overseeing bank security and technology, leaving Kate to serve essentially as a single parent in a foreign country.  Fortunately, Kate meets other expatriates such as Chicago natives Bill and Julia, who bring a little bit of home with them even in their luxury apartment with stunning views of the Duke’s palace.

Chris Pavone bases the novel on his own experience as an American expatriate in Luxembourg surrounded by others with various life stories that all intersected, however briefly, in the tiny European that is known as the only Grand Duchy left in the world.  The Expats is filled with cultural references on both sides of the Atlantic including an amusing pun concerning famous French poet Baudelaire.  Navone also sidesteps insulting housewives because it’s made very clear that Kate admires those who succeed in their choices even as she realizes that the transition for her proves tougher than she expected. He also maintains a pace worthy of the genre, largely because of the unexpected questions that arise out of the storyline.

Pavone follows three threads of narrative, allowing the reader to follow Kate’s train of thought as a burnt-out agent, bored housewife desperate for companionship and conversation above Bob L’Eponge (Spongebob Squarepants), and the most current stream of thought in which she’s trying to figure out what secrets her mild-mannered husband has kept from her during all of those years while she protected her own.  Rather than becoming confusing, the threads add intensity culminating in the great mystery of whether or not everyone’s lying or if Kate’s numbed mind is just frantically trying to “play pretend” like her own little boys do to combat boredom.  Even when all the threads seem to be successfully tied, Navone offers one last twist that will inspire readers to wonder what he’s going to do next.

 

 

 

Midnight Alley by Miles Corwin

Publisher: Oceanview Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New MysteryReader

Detective Ash Levine is looking forward to the first bright spot in his life for a long time: a weekend away with his almost ex-wife Robin, who has come back into his life, for reasons he can’t understand but is delighted to accept without question—for a while, anyway.

Then the perfect weekend is interrupted by what so often harmed the marriage: a call from Lt Duffy with a murder case so urgent that Ash’s weekend off is cancelled.  Expecting Robin to stalk off in anger, Ash is surprised when she takes the news with wry acceptance. 

At the murder scene, Ash finds the bodies of Isaac Pinckney, son of a quick-to-take-offence Los Angeles councilman, and Teshay Winfield.  Both bodies show signs of torture, but strangely, on only one of them was the injury done before death.  Why mark up a dead body?  Ash doesn’t take long to suspect that despite the screams from Councilman Pinckney, it wasn’t his son who was the main target, it was Teshay, a returned veteran from Iraq.

From that point the story moves rapidly into dangerous territory: this isn’t a gang-banger killing, or a robbery gone wrong, the murders were due to one of the oldest of motives: greed.  Ash learns that a missing treasure from the Iraqi museum looting is involved, and some very dangerous people are on its trail.  While defending himself from an assassin, Ash is framed for the same man’s death, and sidelined from the case.  Whose interest does it serve for his career to be trashed? Ash figures if he can discover that, he’ll find the original killer, the treasure, and clear his name.  Easy to say, but not so easy to accomplish, not when almost everyone thinks you’re dirty.

This is a fast-moving story that conveys the frustration and fear felt by a man being framed by experts; don’t start reading it after supper or you’ll never make it to work on time the next day.

 

 

 

House Of The Hunted by Mark Mills

Publisher: Random House

New Mystery Reader

In classic novel and recent Oscar-nominated film, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, John le Carre’s protagonist --- George Smiley --- is tasked with the most difficult challenge of his career in counter-espionage.  He must ferret out one of his co-workers and closest friends who has turned traitor on their group.  How he goes about doing this will push him to the limits of all his personal and professional relationships as friends and enemies become less easy to decipher.

Author Mark Mills has taken this same formula and successfully applied it to his latest novel.  In HOUSE OF THE HUNTED, a former British intelligence operative named Tom Nash is trying to reinvent himself and put his past behind him.  The year is 1935 and the place Nash finds himself in is Cote d’Azure, France --- a small town along the French Riviera.  Things are heating up in Europe and in Russia and the impending Second World War is about to begin.

Nash tries to remain oblivious to all this and focus on his new interest --- writing.  Posing as a writer allows Nash to blend quietly into the village he resides in and he mixes well with the many eccentric and colorful characters he calls neighbors.  Surrounded by friends and family would seem to provide him with enough insulation from his past as well as the winds of war that are swirling around Europe.  Unfortunately, Nash is in for a rude awakening.

One evening, a young Italian hit-man scales the wall and terrace of Nash’s room and attempts to kill him in his sleep.  Nash’s old instincts kick in quickly and he deftly repels the threat and kills the would-be assassin. Before he silences his attacker, Nash tries to get some answers from him.  Most pointedly, why was he sent and by whom?

The answers to these questions are what drive HOUSE OF THE HUNTED beyond just a mere espionage novel as Mark Mills creates a literary thriller that is both brilliantly conceived and continuously shocking.  Tom Nash realizes that he cannot trust anyone --- friends, neighbors, colleagues --- and most significantly he must reach back into his own past as a British spy to seek out the person or persons that may want him dead.  Once the threat is revealed, Nash will be in for an eye-opening revelation that makes him recognize that his life is very much in danger and there may be no way out. 

Following the international success of prior efforts like THE INFORMATION OFFICER and AMAGANSETT, Mark Mills now reaches the peak of his literary prowess with a nerve-wracking labyrinth of a novel that is far more than mere spy thriller.  HOUSE OF THE HUNTED is literary fiction at its finest and any homage to the likes of John le Carre is well deserved and places him in fine company.

 

 

 

Tumblin’ Dice by John McFetridge

Publisher: ECW Press

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

I got about three pages into John McFetridge’s new novel, Tumblin’ Dice, and thought to myself, “I could write like this. If had the talent and the balls.” No one else reads quite like McFetridge, and no one else tells the same kinds of stories. He is as unique as anyone writing today who hasn’t gone completely off the reservation and abandoned traditional restraints such as verbs and punctuation.

Tumblin’ Dice is the story of an 80s rock band, The High, together again to play the casino circuit, opening for bands who had higher and longer peaks to their careers. Somewhere along the way Cliff (vocals) and Barry (bass) get the idea to increase their takes by ripping off the shylocks/pawnbrokers who work outside the casinos. These entrepreneurs carry large sums of money so big losers can pawn anything from watches to cars to keep things rolling until their luck turns. When Cliff and Barry learn their old manager (Frank) runs the Huron Lakes Casino, next stop on the tour, an opportunity to recoup all the cash they figured he cheated them out of presents itself.

Guitarist Ritchie has another reason to look forward to the Huron Lakes gig. Angie, his girlfriend from the band’s heyday, now works as Frank’s assistant. She and Ritchie haven’t seen each other since Angie started making regular rehab appearances. Now she’s clean, working a good job, and they’re both wondering how it’s going to go.

No McFetridge novel is complete without some involvement from the Saints of Hell, a motorcycle gang that ditched the bikes, brought all the independent gangs in Canada under their patch, and is ready to take on the American Mafia for control of Canadian organized crime. Right now they have their sights set on the Huron Lakes Casino.

This could turn into a routine sex, drugs, and graphic violence story in less capable hands. McFetridge creates a story Richard Price would be proud of, using the multiple layers of crime involved less for plot than for setting. The story focuses on the characters and their own plans and schemes, and how they adapt—or don’t—to how the plans and schemes of others affect them, even when they don’t know what exactly is going on. The atmosphere of crime and its penumbra is where they live, much as Ed McBain’s characters lived in Isola and John Connolly’s live in Maine.

What would be an intriguing story well written is elevated a step by an investigation of honor. More to McFetridge’s point, differing concepts of honor, and how the principle can be corrupted by its application. Not to create a spoiler, suffice to say he interweaves story lines and the duties implied by different codes and contexts of honor to show, while honor is ostensibly about doing what’s right, it rarely is about doing what’s Right.

McFetridge has been called the Elmore Leonard of Canada, and his first book, Dirty Sweet, shows a strong Leonard influence. Each subsequent book has added another element to the writing. The casual approach to dialog and characters who never seem to have things quite as under control as they think are still there. McFetridge’s books now have more than engrossing stories and entertaining characters; they give you something to think about during and after the read.

The cover of Tumblin’ Dice says it is “a mystery.” The real mystery is why McFetridge’s books don’t sell exponentially more copies.

For featured interview with John McFetridge

 

 

 

 

Capitol Murder by Phillip Margolin

Publisher: Harper Collins

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Dana Cutler is an ex-cop and PI. She has worked some high profile cases and the fame has worked to make new clients difficult to obtain. Brad Miller is an attorney who has left criminal practice to serve on the staff of Oregon senator Jack Carson. Dana and Brad have teamed in previous Margolin thrillers to defend the innocent. Ginny Striker is Brad’s new bride who has left an upscale law firm to work with the Department of Justice (DOJ). The three will soon find their professional paths crossing.

Before leaving private practice, Brad represented Oregon serial killer Clarence Little who collected a pinkie finger from each of his victims. Little continues to communicate with Brad via letters smuggled out from prison. Then Little escapes. Senator Carson has a history of affairs with beautiful women. When two of his recent conquests are found tortured, murdered and missing a pinkie, the question arises as to whether Little is stalking the Senator or Brad.

In the meantime, a terrorist plot to blow-up a stadium full of people is stopped by the DOJ. Ginny is moved suddenly to an assignment in counter terrorism. Dana and Ginny find themselves on opposing sides. When an overzealous DOJ official violates the rights of an American charged with the terrorism, Ginny risks her career to provide Dana with classified files.

Margolin has once again proven himself a master at taking events from today’s headlines and combining them into an international thriller with a human face. The characters are made the more believable by human fragilities such as doubt and fear. The story has plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing while maintaining a tight story line. In all ways, this a superior read.