Over 550 book reviews with full author links

14 November 2017

Daniel Silva: The Rembrandt Affair

Gabriel's Masterpiece
IMHO this is the very best in Daniel Silva's excellent Gabriel Allon series. It starts like many of Allon's adventures with something unrelated to the world of espionage and builds into a full-fledged espionage adventure with extreme international consequences.

Christopher Isherwood, a London Art Dealer with connections to the Israeli secret service, thinks he has made the discovery of his life with an unknown portrait by Rembrandt which will not only make his name but also his fortune. While the painting is being restored it is stolen and the restorer murdered. Isherwood's prospects sink totally as he hasn't insured the painting. In panic, he calls for the help of Gabriel Allon who is recovering from one of the most traumatic times in his dangerous career after a nearly fatal encounter with a top Russian General.

Gabriel soon finds that the painting had been "acquired" by a Nazi Jew hunter who is not only responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews in the Holocaust but also for building a fortune held in Swiss Bank accounts from the wealth of his victims. But the fortune has disappeared and anyone trying to discover its whereabouts has also disappeared.

In trying to find out what has happened to the money Gabriel not only uncovers some of the worst aspects of the Nazis but also the worst aspects of the person who now has control of the stolen wealth.

This is typical Allon stuff with 'The Office" finding out what has happened and getting involved with the world's main espionage agencies to avoid a world calamity. Once again he cleverly recruits an innocent person to gain access to the lion's den.

Highly recommended, especially to those who have read other books in the series.

12 November 2017

Nelson DeMille: The Cuban Affair

Is there really a Cuban thaw?
In his first new book for a couple of years Nelson DeMille introduces us to a new character, Daniel 'Mac' MacCormick, and a new country outside the US and the Middle East - the enigmatic Cuba.

Mac is living a good life running fishing charters off Key West, Florida but his finances are slim. He is approached by a Cuban-American Miami lawyer called Carlos with a staggering $2 million offer to run his boat into Havana and smuggle out a treasure of cash and documents hidden from the Castro government during the revolution. The cash was owned by the family of a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega.

The offer is too good to refuse, but the risks are enormous as despite the "Cuban Thaw" the country is still a police state where informing is part of normal life. Conditions for enemies of the state are hideous and if Mac or Sara are caught nobody can help them.

They join an American university group cultural tour of Cuba, totally organised and brainwashed by the Cuban authorities. They start to get to know one another and plan how to retrieve the treasure under the eyes of the ever-present secret police.

Mac has some similarities to DeMille's best character John Corey. He is glibly but not as sarcastically humorous as Corey, a ladies man, a rule breaker and a risk taker. That combination makes him a dangerous friend to have in Cuba, especially to a beautiful woman.

While this is a reasonable thriller it is nowhere near the best of DeMille's books. The best aspects were a detailed glimpse of Cuba today, an anachronistic poor communist regime living within a few miles of one of richest "democracies" in the world. DeMille paints a picture of a rotting paradise where the regime has little interest in a thaw that would take away their power.

Stephen Coonts" Liberty's Last Stand

Appalling right-wing conspiracy nonsense
I have been a fan of Stephen Coonts for a long time, but no longer.

This is US right-wing conspiracy rubbish disguised as a popular thriller. It features a black left-wing President who uses terrorist actions to justify declaring martial law, dismiss Congress, squash dissent, and imprison political opponents. The implication that the President could be Obama is so clear, disturbing and untrue. The possibility that the story could be rewritten with the current President in mind is much more feasible.

I understand that Coonts changed his publisher to one who favours his extreme right-wing views. This is not surprising.

After this, I will definitely not be reading any more of his books, especially his latest one about election rigging which will certainly contain the same kind of right-wing rubbish and fake news that a section of the American public seems to lap up. I am so happy that I live in Australia where, despite our politics being boring, extreme right-wing views are not tolerated by the general community.

This is a first for me - no stars.

Daniel Silva: House of Spies

The search for Saladin - again
This is another clever but a bit repetitive espionage thriller featuring the fictional legendary Israeli spy, assassin, and art restorer Gabriel Allon. Silva is a master of this genre and never disappoints with contemporary themes, action, and suspense.

The US, England, France and several other countries have been struck severely by attacks in the name of ISIS. Behind it all lurks the evil and secretive leader who calls himself "Saladin" after the 12th-century sultan who created a caliphate across the Middle East and Egypt. He is elusive and dangerous and will certainly strike again.

Gabriel is now head of "The Office" a role he finds hard after so many years in the field. He is also a new father of twins, a role he loves but can't find the time because of the demands of his new office. Fortunately his wife Chiara has also worked for the office and understands the pressure that he is under.

Gabriel is nearly killed in a bomb attack when visiting the building housing the top antiterrorism group in France as part of his search for Saladin. He believes that the key to finding Saladin is to follow the money trail, and to get the kind of money needed for his attacks it is clear that drugs are involved. This leads Gabriel and his key team to the south of France and to the wealthy doorstep of Jean-Luc Martel and Olivia Watson. Martel is highly regarded throughout the world for his philanthropy and art collection so to most it is unbelievable that his immense wealth is built on the proceeds of drugs and that his partner's art gallery is the main conduit to wash this money.

Once again we see Gabriel's team set up a scam to implicate and turn Jean-Luc and Olivia into helping them confront evil. His team expands to include Natalie Mizrahi, the "Black Widow" who is the only person to have got close to Saladin, and retired hired killer and now "The English Spy" Christopher Keller. Things get complicated internationally when US antiterrorism want to control the action. While Gabriel reluctantly concurs to giving them a role, of course, he keeps the key role for his team.

As usual Silva's writing is compelling, action-packed and contemporary. But after so many books in this series, there are a lot of backstories which makes things a bit boring for those who have followed Gabriel over the years. 4.5 stars.

Lee Child: Midnight Line

Yet another Jack Reacher.....
Another year has passed so here is another Jack Reacher adventure by Lee Child. Each time we wonder what Child has done to keep this long-running series alive. This time he has done very little except write another post-military situation where Reacher finds or puts himself in the middle of another strange dangerous situation.

When Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town he visits as part of his life of unplanned wandering he sees a West Point ring in a pawn shop window. The ring is tiny, a woman's ring, from 2005 with engraved initials inside. Reacher was an earlier West Point graduate and knows the importance of such a ring to the person who had gone through so much to graduate. So Reacher being Reacher he sets out to find out what has happened to the owner.

This leads him to a tour of the mid-west, especially Wyoming with lengthy descriptions of the environment that would fit well into a tourist brochure. It also leads him into the dark world of Oxycodone addiction - an opioid developed by the drug companies as a wonder drug for severe pain which unfortunately is easy to become very addicted. With addiction comes the black market and drug dealers....

Reacher meets up with the normal crop of baddies and goodies that feature in his adventures - the bikies, drug peddlers, cops and an investigator and family member also trying to find the owner of a major drug ring.

This is just another Jack Reacher adventure following familiar plots and themes. One interesting thing is that Reacher is described by one of the baddies as "Bigfoot" a mythical giant from the north-west woods. Is Child trying to distance the real Reacher from the screen Reacher starring midget Tom Cruise.

All in all yet another well written but somewhat repetitively plotted Reacher adventure.

04 November 2017

Wilbur Smith: Eagle in the Sky

One of his earliest books that has stood the test of time
I read this book shortly after it was first published in 1974 and I still remembered it better than most of his other books. Revisiting after over 40 years it still gripped me as one of Smith's best action-packed books - a heart-wrenching mixture of the action, terror, and romance.

David Morgan was a young man from South Africa with carefree charm and great wealth who found flying more exciting than joining the family business. He moves to Israel (his mother was a Jew) and becomes a Mirage pilot in the Israeli Air Force at a time of one of the country's worst struggles for survival. There he meets Debra Mordecai again who he had met in Europe and romance develops.

Then disaster happens to both of them. Debra is blinded in a terrorist attack during their wedding ceremony and David is badly burnt when his fighter crashes after a dogfight with Syrian raiders. Two damaged people move back to live in the South African bush and support one another in a truly marvellous way.

Smith's love for the South African countryside and its wildlife shines out. This is an emotional book with the ending especially heart-wrenching as David and Debra adjust to a miraculous change in their circumstances.

I am so glad that I revisited this book which has stood the test of time.

Michael Connelly: Two Kinds of Truth

Connelly is still at the top of his game
This is #20 in Connelly's best-selling Harry Bosch series and while Harry is getting older this story is as good and young as any of the previous ones.

Bosch has retired from LAPD but needs to keep active and is working as an unpaid part-time detective in the town of San Fernando near Los Angeles. They don't have many murders and it is a major event for the small police force when father and son pharmacists are assassinated by two hooded gunmen.

It soon becomes clear that the father has illegally been dispensing oxycodone prescribed by bent doctors. A gang is bussing homeless addicts between the doctors and "friendly" pharmacists to get large supplies of these pills that are both valuable in their own right and also mixed with other drugs.

In the middle of the drug murder investigation, Bosch learns that LAPD internal affairs believe that over 20 years ago he planted evidence in a rape/murder case that led to a death penalty. The person is still on death row and his lawyers have found DNA evidence that shows that it comes from a convicted rapist who is now deceased.

Harry quickly gets help from his half-brother Mickey Haller to find out why his lifetime career is on the line. At the same time, he gets recruited by DEA to chase down the gang responsible for the murders and organised prescription drug abuse.

Connelly interweaves these plots masterfully with Bosch facing up to the almost impossible task of finding the truth of two completely different challenges.

Once again Michael Connelly has shown why he is the world's best and most popular crime writer.

03 November 2017

Davis Baldacci: End Game

So action-packed I lost count of the bodies!
Over the years David Baldacci has created a range of interesting characters with superhuman abilities. Will Robie, the hitman with a conscience, and Jessica Reel, his female counterpart are two of the most remarkable ones whose non-stop action always ramps up the body count. If you like far-fetched page-turning thrillers, this one is definitely for you.

The first few chapters have Robie single handed taking down a terrorist mega-bomb threat in London and Reel in the thick of a wild and dangerous firefight in Iraq, both racking up huge body counts. The action-packed writing is some of the best I have read recently by a popular author.

Both of them are called back to DC urgently because their controller, the "Blue Man", real name Roger Walton, has gone missing while visiting his hometown in sparsely populated Colorado. It is imperative that Walton is found because he knows so many secrets about clandestine operations throughout the world.

The local community has many who have made their home there because they don't trust anything to do with law and order or government. The area is studded with extreme closely guarded right-wing compounds which makes it extremely hard find any information about Walton's whereabouts. Skinheads and neo-nazis abound. The area also has a disused missile silo that has been converted into a luxurious escape resort for super-rich worried about surviving a dramatic and catastrophic conflict, which they expect will destroy the world or the human race.

There are many places that Walton could be, all of them very uninviting and dangerous. When Robie and Reel start to uncover what might be going on things quickly get nasty and the body count rises again. By the end, I lost count of the bodies, and all I can say (as a spoiler) is that Robie and Reel survived to feature in a future adventure.

David Baldacci is a master writer of this kind of thriller. At times I have thought that he has run out of steam but with this one, I think he has shown that he is still on his top form after so many other good and sometimes not so good thrillers. Despite giving this book 5 stars, I still remember the Camel Club series as Baldacci's best.

I was able to review this book now because it was published in Australia 14 days before being released in the US.

20 November 2016

Peter Watt: While the Moon Burns: The Frontier Series 11

The MacIntoshes and the Duffys continue to battle on
Christmas is coming so it is time for the next annual episode from Peter Watt of his gripping Australian historical family saga/melodrama about the MacIntoshes and the Duffys. The main problem is that over the year I have forgotten so much about the many interesting characters that play a part in this long-running saga so it takes a time to remember them again, despite some pretty good back-story writing.

While the war in Europe is over the war in the Pacific continues its bloody toll. Lieutenant Donald MacIntosh (a goodie) and Major David Duffy are battling the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea. Captain James Duffy, a US Marines top fighter pilot has returned to the Pacific War and Sergeant Jessica Duffy has returned from a secret mission where she rescued a key US officer from the Japanese.

Meanwhile, at home Sarah MacIntosh (a real baddie) is increasing her control over the MacIntosh businesses by foul means or fair (mainly very foul) and has taken advantage of war profits to increase the wealth and power of the businesses. Despite that, she never forgets her enemies and takes aim at Tom Duffy who at last, with her brother Donald's help, has at long last been able to purchase his ancestral property of Glen View. She also takes aim at anything that is precious to Donald.

As always the mythical elderly Aboriginal warrior Wallarie still haunts the family members, protecting some and warning others of danger. "A long time ago a white fella called Donald MacIntosh had all of my mob killed. I survived - and now I am also gone. Sometimes I fly to the earth as a wedge-tailed eagle and soar above the lands I once hunted."

This is a sweeping historical melodrama with so many characters and settings that it is sometimes hard to keep track of them. Peter Watt does a great job with these characters, especially the real baddies. He is also prepared to kill off characters who you are barracking to survive and prosper.

I have read all of this long running series and still come back to it from year to year. I seriously recommend that interested readers should start with "Cry of the Curlew" to give you a background to the series. Watt has a great feel for Australian history in the late 19th and 20th Century. This book takes us from the Pacific War to peace and then back to war again in Korea. It finishes up at the start of the Malaysian communist uprising which I am sure will be the starting focus for next year's episode.

11 November 2016

James J Kaufman: The Collectibles

An emotional tale of love and tragedy
In his early days, Joe Hart is exploring the mountain wilderness with his uncle when he comments that he feels so ordinary. His Uncle gives him this sage advice - "Do what the other fella can't. Be what the other fella ain't. And then help the other fella."

This is an unforgettable story of two men from different worlds, which collide early on but really collide many years later. In the mountains as a youth, Joe rescues Preston Wilson, another youth reluctantly travelling in the mountains with his dominating father. When Preston's father leaves his mother because he has become a financial failure Preston vows to do everything to become a financial success.

Years later, Preston is an apparent success but his automobile sales group is about to go bankrupt. Preston faces not only losing his businesses but also his wife who had financially supported him. At the end of his tether, Preston looks for a lawyer with a track record of helping businesses in trouble. This leads him to Joe Hart, who has become a successful lawyer after years as a top rated submarine commander. Preston realises that fate has once again brought him to Joe but how can he find him?

Joe has once again retreated to the mountains to recover from a personal tragedy. Preston tracks him down and tries to persuade Joe to come down and help him. Jo reluctantly agrees but only after he extracts three promises from Preston which he must fulfill whenever called upon. Preston meets the first two promises and Joe makes an arrangement with the banks for restructuring of the finances and changing the management of his businesses to give them a chance of becoming successful again.

Preston's businesses are now recovering but Preston cannot recover from the loss of his wife who walked out on him at his darkest hour. Then Joe calls in the final and most unusual IOU - Preston must meet, earn the trust of, and care for several people. These are Joe's "collectibles" - a rag-tag bunch of people that Joe has supported whom Preston would never normally want to know. Can Preston find the strength and integrity to make good on his promise to Joe? Does he have a choice?

This is a wonderful debut novel by James J Kaufman and I defy anyone with some sensitivity to have a dry eye during parts of this book, especially the finale. It is the first installment of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the other books.

I listened to this novel as an audiobook, which heightened some of the more emotional elements for me. As an Aussie, the American accent of the narrator was initially difficult to identify with but in the end, I quite liked the presentation.