Over 550 book reviews with full author links

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.

10 November 2016

Lee Child: Night School

Getting to the end of the road so reinvent something
This is #21 in the long running Jack Reacher series. Each year I vow not to read Lee Child's annual episode in the life of Jack Reacher but each year I succumb to the addiction to find out how Child keeps a moribund series breathing. This year Child has run out of new ideas so he has to reinvent the past.

Back in 1996 Reacher is at his zenith as a Major in the CID of the US Army and has just got a medal for a secret operation in Bosnia when he is called to a innocuous "Night School" which really isn't innocuous. The only other students are another couple of guys from the FBI and the CIA who are also at the zenith of their careers. His teachers are from the top echelon of the security system working directly to the President. Of course one of the teachers is an attractive blond haired security specialist.

It is soon very clear that this is not a school but the start of an operation to track down potentially damaging terrorist activity happening in Hamburg, Germany. Child then starts a well written but pretty third-rate post Cold War thriller with Reacher, his trusted sergeant Frances Neagley, CIA agents and German police cooperating to chase down the terrorist threat. Of course Reacher and the attractive blond haired security specialist find time for some, off-plot and unnecessary, close personal collaboration that has nothing to do with chasing terrorists.

The story didn't really need Reacher to be the star who could think and act faster than the rest. It didn't really need Reacher to take on and beat up several German right-wing skinheads singlehanded. The story was there so that Child could reinvent the past to keep the series from running out of steam and keep his long time best-selling character alive and kicking.

While it is well written in Chld's inimitable addictive style, IMHO is doesn't solve the long-term issue that this series has run out of steam. But of course, like me, many people will read the book to find out if this conclusion is correct. Will I be back again next year for another dose of Reacher - at this stage probably not but then I've said that too many times before.

27 October 2016

David Baldacci: No Man's Land (John Puller Novel 4)

Reality check needed when Baldacci ventures into "No Man's Land"
There are two stories, both of which started nearly thirty years ago.

John Puller's mother disappeared mysteriously then and despite an intensive search and investigation, she was never seen again. New evidence has just come to light that Puller's father, now a retired 3 star General suffering dementia, had secretly come home to Fort Monroe from overseas on the day his wife disappeared and is now a suspect in her disappearance.

John Puller is now a crack CID investigator with the Army and would be officially barred from working the case and face a court-martial if he disobeys orders. It is not in his nature to do nothing in a case affecting him and his family. When intelligence operative Veronica Knox, his old "friend" and ally on other cases turns up he knows that the case has far more ramifications than he realised.

Also thirty years ago something terrible happened to Paul Rogers which changed his life forever. As part of a top-secret project, based in Building Q of Fort Monroe, his body was altered to give him extreme strength, and resilience to pain so that he could perform superhuman tasks, including killing without any conscience. Rogers has just spent the last 10 years in jail for murder and with his parole determines to seek out and deliver vengeance to those who were responsible for his condition.

The stories involve huge coverups at the highest level which are continuing to the present day. Puller and Knox get pulled into the middle of this highly sensitive arena while Rogers is trying to hunt down the people who harmed him so long ago.  Baldacci carefully weaves together the stories until they converge.

I have read most of Baldacci's books and enjoy his writing. But this time I think he has stepped too far out of reality to get a top rating. You certainly need a need a reality check to enjoy some of the fantasy that Baldacci has created. IMHO the book has also been poorly edited as there are a lot of things that happen, especially at very high levels of government, that are not explained by the end of the book - maybe a consequence of meeting tough publication deadlines. In previous books in the John Puller series, there was an interesting personal relationship between Puller and Knox which was hardly an issue in this one.

25 October 2016

Michael Connelly: The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Harry Bosch is back again - better than ever
Harry Bosch left the LAPD again before they could fire him over a minor infraction. Since then he has successfully sued for being illegally forced into retirement. Once again Bosch has set up his shingle as a private investigator, but at the same time he is working as an unpaid part-time detective in the town of San Fernando outside of Los Angeles.

In his private investigator role, he is invited to meet an aging aviation billionaire, Whitney Vance, who has a proposition - find out if he has any surviving offspring who could become the heir to his huge fortune. At age 18 Vance had a relationship with a young Mexican girl called Vibiana Duarte, but soon after becoming pregnant she disappeared and Vance had never seen her again.

Bosch quickly finds a lead that Vibiana had a son who was adopted out shortly after birth. This lead fades when Bosch finds that the son perished when he was shot down in a helicopter in Vietnam. As soon as he starts to find more leads Bosch realises that he is being followed by powerful parties who don't want any surviving relatives to be found. When his search takes a more dramatic and serious direction he turns for help and legal protection to his half-brother, Mickey Haller.

At the same time, Bosch gets tied up almost full time with a major case for the small police force of San Fernando - a serial rapist who gains entry by cutting through the screen door of victims' houses. The hunt for the "Screen Cutter" heats up when more victims are identified and a criminal profile suggests that it is only a matter of time before the rapist also becomes a killer.

Connelly showed his skills in weaving Bosch's investigatory skills between two totally different cases. It was certainly a change not to see him constantly doing battle with his police superiors. There is not much background about his personal life as his daughter Maddy is at college and only has a cameo role.

Over the last year, I have been revisiting and enjoying several of Michael Connelly's earlier books. IMHO this one stands out as one of the best he has written and maintains his top place in US crime fiction and showcased Connelly's skills in keeping this long-running series alive. We will certainly see a lot more of Harry Bosch in the future.

I was able to review this book now as it was published in Australia on 24 October 2016 and won't be released in the US until 1 November 2016. It certainly deserves to be in the bestsellers list leading up to the festive season.

31 July 2016

Joseph Flynn: The President's Henchman (Jim McGill series Book 1)

The first bloke wants to keep working
Jim McGill, (divorced father of 3, a former Chicago cop, and now a PI) is a first in the US - he is married to the first female president and has been nicknamed "The President's Henchman" (in Australia we would probably call him "The First Bloke"). Spouses of US Presidents normally play a supportive but passive role but Jim isn't the kind of man for such a role.

Jim first met his current wife, now the President, when as a PI he solved the murder of her first husband. Jim is not a political animal and wants to continue an active role in his PI business. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when his first case is to find out who is stalking a member of the White House press corps and another case involves the military where his wife is Commander in Chief.

Despite having to cope with the ever-present Secret Service and the tough as nails head of security, Jim takes on these cases which both turn out to have the potential to derail his wife's presidency.

There has been a lot of fantasy fiction centred around the US Presidency, mostly about terrorism and espionage. Flynn's take is a first one for me about the First Bloke and possibly pushes the bounds of fantasy a little too much for my credibility index. Nevertheless, it really may not be too much of a fantasy with the possibility of the first female US President. Just try to think of the things that Bill Clinton could do to avoid the boredom of being the First Bloke.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Sword

Espionage, betrayal, battle and, of course, some romance
Bernard Cornwell takes us with Captain Richard Sharpe into the midst of Wellington's Salamanca Campaign. While Sharpe again has his fair share of battle this adventure is more about espionage, betrayal and some romance.

Sharpe and his small group of riflemen come across  Colonel Laroux, a vicious cold-blooded French officer tasked with implementing a scorched earth environment to prevent the British advance to Salamanca. Sharpe nearly succumbs to wounds after a fight with Leroux. He is rescued by his friend Patrick Harper and after being slowly nursed back to health Sharpe sets out to get his vengeance.

While there is plenty of battle action most of the action centres around the relationships of a few key characters - Sharpe and Laroux's vendetta, Sharpe's romance with the beautiful La Marquesa (Helena), and aristocrat and gambler Lord Jack Spears. Lurking in the background is the mysterious "El Mirador" the spy who could have the answers to the success or otherwise of the campaign. Of course, Lord Wellington also plays a key role, this time possibly ruling the demise of Sharpe back to the ranks.

This is another great adventure in the always exciting and historically crafted Richard Sharpe series. There are many more adventures still to go to keep my adrenaline flowing and increase my knowledge of this fascinating time in military history.

John Jakes: California Gold: A Novel

The real California Gold didn't come from the goldfields
This story of California Gold is not about the goldfields, it is about the wealth that came when the gold rush was over.

James Macklin Chance started off being a wanderer who saw California as the gold at the end of the rainbow. His main incentive was a small travel promotional book that described the promised land in glowing terms. He crossed the country, endured great hardship but eventually got to California and to San Fransico, some 30 years after the peak of gold fever. The State and the City were virtually under the control of the railroad barons - the "Big Four," who were instrumental in building the Central Pacific Railroad who had a stranglehold on most business in the State.

After Chance tried to set up a ferry business in competition with a ferry owned by the railroad he was virtually run out of town by thugs employed by the Four. Again Chance left everything behind him and moved to Southern California, and inadvertently invested in some land with huge oil deposits. When he becomes a very rich man he also invests in citrus growing and water rights and gets even richer.

Wealth doesn't always bring him happiness, choosing an unhappy marriage to a very spoilt rich girl over happiness with an ambitious independent journalist/author. Eventually Chance returns to San Francisco to face up to his old rivals. He keeps in touch with Southern California and even gets involved with the early tumultuous days of Hollywood movie-making.

This is a good but very lengthy tale of the early days of California which brought home to me the really terrible aspects of untrammeled capitalism. John Jakes captured both the ambition and energy of California’s pioneers and how they would stop at nothing to achieve their personal and often very greedy objectives. I really liked the way that John Jakes authenticated his story by using some actual historical figures from these days and incorporated some major events, such as the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

30 July 2016

David Baldacci: The Winner

An entertaining fantasy thriller
During the drought season of new releases at the beginning of the calendar year I revisited a number of best-selling books that I had read many years ago. THE WINNER is the third standalone book by David Baldacci released in 1998 which immediately became a best-seller. It is still a pretty good read and an entertaining fantasy thriller.

The fantasy setting has dirt-poor single mother LuAnn Tyler winning about $100 million in the national lottery. The real fantasy is that LuAnn had been selected by a clever sociopath who could fix the winning numbers. LuAnn had been given a deadline to accept the offer and the sociopath ("Mr Jackson", a master of disguise) had arranged for her to be eliminated if she didn't accept on time.

Minutes before accepting LuAnn walks into her run-down trailer and finds her deadbeat partner has just been shot over a drug deal. She hits the assassin with a phone and thinks she has killed him. On the run, she calls Jackson and agrees to the deal. Jackson helps her with a disguise and a new identity and she and her daughter escape to live overseas with an understanding that she will never return to the USA. Over several years, Jackson invests the money very successfully and shares the gains with her so LuAnn becomes a very wealthy person.

Jackson reminds her that she should never come back to the US. But after 10 years LuAnn is sick of living overseas and desperately wants to return to the US. When she does this without Jackson's knowledge he is very angry and threatens to punish her and her daughter. The plot then twists and turns as the FBI and the IRS are searching for her in connection with the lottery scam and tax avoidance and Jackson tries to take retribution.

The only help comes from the mysterious Matthew Riggs who has contracted to build a security fence for her. Of course, a strong attraction builds between Riggs and LuAnn.

This is an entertaining fantasy thriller with an unbelievable and very dangerous sociopath pulling the strings. Baldacci went on to write many successful series but some of the early standalone ones are still among his best.

Danel Silva: The Black Widow

The reality face of ISIS terrorism
Daniel Silva has written his latest book in the outstanding Gabriel Allon series about the reality of ISIS terrorism. While he commenced writing this book before the ISIS-inspired bombings and shootings in Paris and Brussels he is not proud of his prescience that has made him even more aware of the dangers of murderous terrorism of the Islamic State.

Gabriel Allon is again back in Israel as an art restorer, delighting in the joys of parenthood of twins with his wife Chiara, and waiting for the unwelcome call to become the head of Israel's secret intelligence service. But as that time approaches events lure him back into the field when ISIS detonates a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris devastating a Jewish centre and killing its principal Hannah Weinberg who was one of the key characters in "The Messenger". Once again Gabriel gets pulled into working with intelligence services throughout the world, even from Jordan, to defeat such evil.

The name of that evil 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. Allon plans to insert an agent into his network, and again it will be a beautiful woman. At Gabriel's behest,  a young French/Israeli doctor, Natalie Mizrahi takes on a brave and dangerous role acting as a radicalised Moslem woman - a black widow who is looking for vengeance - to flush out "Saladin". Her role takes her from Paris to Syria to meet "Saladin" face to face and eventually to the US as a key part of his planned night of terror which could change the face of the world.

Silva takes us into the world of ISIS, its beliefs and brutal ways of life. He draws a chilling picture of "Saladin", a creation of radical Islam who is also a creation of recent events in the Middle East. He draws a picture of what can happen and actually did happen recently in Paris and other places.

This is another brilliant exciting and adrenaline packed thriller by Daniel Silva. I only wish that the topic was not so contemporary or chilling.