Over 550 book reviews with full author links

26 October 2012

David Baldacci: The Forgotten

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John Puller - Baldacci's new Jack Reacher
Now that Oliver Stone and the Camel Club are over, David Baldacci is looking for a key player for a new series. Welcome to Military Criminal Investigator, John Puller Jr, who some of you will have met first in "Zero Day". Puller is basically a military policeman, over 6 feet tall, very athletic and powerful but with battle wounds from active service, great with weapons and a diligent and brilliant investigator. After the traumas of "Zero Day" Puller went off for some post stress R & R -  "He had no map, no plan, no destination".

Does all of this sound a bit familiar, a bit like Jack Reacher? Of course it does. We all love Jack Reacher but after so many iterations his adventures are getting a bit thin and repetitious. So let's see what Puller can offer. Firstly he is still in the military although this adventure starts out as a personal investigation. His aunt who raised him sent a letter saying "people are not being who they seemed". When Puller arrives in Florida he finds that she has been drowned in her back-yard fountain, which the police think is accidental. Puller he gets involved with the local police in trying to convince them that it was murder. Like Zero Day, a simple investigation quickly uncovers  something far more sinister and dangerous.

The finale is fast and furious escapist nonsense with a team of unlikely goodies, including some kick-ass females, taking care of almost a football team of nasty baddies.

Did I enjoy it? Yes because I like Baldacci's page-turning style and characterisation, with well thought-out plot. Did I worry about the Jack Reacher similarity? Yes, because Baldacci should be able to create a new character without apparently having to plagiarize another one. What is my greatest concern? That someone might have plans for a John Puller movie with Tom Cruise in the lead role.

I worried over an appropriate rating and came up with 3.5 stars (somewhere between Amazon's "OK" [3 stars] and "I like it" [4 stars]. In the end because I did enjoy it I rounded it back to 4 stars. Would I read the next Baldacci book, even if it was John Puller again. I think so.

PS (EDITED) Someone who commented pointed out that Lee Child gets a bit of revenge in his latest Reacher book "A Wanted Man", by introducing a dim witted deputy named John Puller. I'm sorry I missed the connection. When Reacher met Puller and found he was a dim wit, he said "Were you dropped on your head as a baby?" ROFL!

20 October 2012

Nelson DeMille: The Panther

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Top class, intelligent, realistic and amusing terrorist thriller
This is one of the most intelligent, realistic and surprisingly amusing terrorist thrillers I have read this year. I have been a fan Nelson DeMille's books for a long time and "The Panther" will be one of the more memorable of his books. It also marks the return of Paul Brenner, well known to many of you as the investigator in "The General's Daughter. Brenner and Corey make a formidable combination.

In "The Lion" John Corey, former NYPD Homicide detective and special agent for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, with the help of his partner and wife Kate Mayfield, killed 'The Lion', a notorious Libyan terrorist. They also stopped a plot by rogue elements in the CIA for a nuclear Armageddon of Muslim countries. Because of their success with the Lion, Corey and Kate are asked by the ATTF to become bait for "The Panther", a feared and brutal al-Qaeda terrorist leader in Yemen. What is realistically scary is that The Panther is a second generation, well educated and very intelligent American citizen of migrant Islamic parents, who becomes a terrorist when he is dismayed with the differences between Western and fundamentalist Islamic values. What is even more scary to Corey and Kate is that they find that the project is masterminded by the CIA.

Some people might find Corey's observations and inimitable humour irrelevant and annoying, but I love them as it helps to take the strain off what could otherwise be pretty tough reading. Corey is at his best and most amusing in this book:

1. Shit happens but in Yemen it happens hard. In Yemen even the good guys are bad.
2. The Yemenis have the highest birth rate of any Arab country ..... so something was happening when the veils came off.
3. "Zamo is also a martial arts expert."  "You draw soldiers?"
4. "Where's Mohammed?" "Getting fitted for a suicide belt."
5. "How is he?"  "Bullet passed through his brain. No damage."

For thriller fans this book has a bit of everything - blackmail, corruption, kidnapping, assassination, bombs, gun-fights, drones and hellfire missiles, all laced with large doses of double and triple-crossing. The book is mostly set, very realistically, in Yemen, one of the most remote and undeveloped third world countries. DeMille's well researched descriptions of Yemen are memorable and it is easy to see why al-Qaeda can have a refuge and strongholds in this country and similar ones in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Many years ago I visited Aden on a passenger liner and even with such a short visit I agree with Corey that "If the earth had an anus it would be located in Yemen".

I gave the book 4.5 stars (marked down because it was a bit lengthy and slow in the early stages) but rounded it to 5 stars because it really was a good read.

16 October 2012

Russell Blake: JET II - Betrayal

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Complete escapism - if you don't give it a reality check
If you like complete escapism with your action fast and furious and don't care about giving it a reality check then this book is for you.

Jet is a female assassin with superhuman killing skills - pistol, automatic weapon, knife, sharpened bamboo poll, wire garotte and even bow and arrow. She has killed more people than I have had hot dinners and shows no remorse. Remarkably she also has strong maternal feelings for the baby that was stolen from her. Also for victims of child slavery forced into prostitution in Thailand from 10 years of age.

At the start of Jet 1, I recall that Russell Blake said that Jet would not be involved directly with official agencies like the CIA and Mossad. This is not the case in this book, where the CIA has a more direct role and few of their operatives can be trusted.

Russell Blake stresses in the preface that this is a work of pure fiction. I took that approach with Jet 1 and thought that it was a good kick-ass escapist thriller. I am not so sure whether I can continue to take the same approach with the increasingly fantasy world of this female assassin in this the sequel.

I gave this book 3 stars - an OK rating by Amazon standards - on the basis that this time I didn't give it a reality check. As all other reviews so far are 5 star and in the "must read" category I seem to be out of step. Maybe I like some kind of reality check in the thrillers I read.

15 October 2012

Steve Gannon: Allison (A Kane Novel)

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Highly recommended - emotionally charged and well written
After "Song for the Asking" and "Kane" I wondered how Steve Gannon could keep up the pace with a book about Allison, Kane's only daughter. The answer is that Steve has written a somewhat different book which is one of the most emotional and compelling books I have read in a long time. While this book can be read as a stand-alone story, you will appreciate this book more if you read the earlier books in order.

The Kane series takes you on an emotional roller-coaster with an apparently dysfunctional family dominated by Dan Kane,  a tough and uncompromising homicide detective with LAPD.  Despite Kane's autocratic dominance (Allison calls him "Godzilla"), the family is glued together by shared experiences, love and respect, and they all follow without question the family dogma that "Kane's stand together, no matter what".

Allison, the only daughter, is approaching her 20th birthday and wants to spread her wings outside the family influence.  While she has a great strength to succeed instilled by her father, she is tortured by terrible emotional wounds from a violent sexual assault that she keeps hidden deep within her.  When by chance she gets offered a job in a local TV newsroom she comes head to head with her father's distrust and hatred of media interference with his work. At the same time the family faces what could potentially be its most devastating event since the death of Allison's elder brother.

While "Allison" contains a great homicide police procedural story, the main story is an emotional and adult coming of age story where Allison battles for independence from her family and to overcome her deep emotional wounds. Her dilemma is clear when her older brother Travis says to her "It's time for you to ask yourself what's really important. It's not school or work or any of these other things. It's family. It's the people you love and who love you."

A review of "Kane" said "Well done, Steve Gannon, you managed to emotionally flog me!"  This time the emotions were not so gut wrenching, but I do admit to "tearing up" a few times as Allison faced up to the challenges of her life and her relationship with her family. There are not many books that can have that kind of effect on me.

Well done Steve Gannon. You are an outstanding author who can outshine many of the most popular best-selling authors of the genre.

08 October 2012

Russell Blake: JET (International Action / Adventure Thriller)

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Fast action kick-ass escapism
If you like action-packed escapism without a reality check then this book has everything for you. Russell Blake introduces us to a beautiful but dangerous female assassin (Mossad operative name Jet). She can be the focus of all eyes a Monte Carlo Casino, but in an instant can act like a viper and kill at the drop of a hat using guns, knives, bombs and even her own hands.

In the prologue Russell Blake explains that this is pure escapism and he has only used Mossad and the CIA for scene setting. He has written this book in roller coaster mode from one exciting action scene to another. If you like your action fast and furious this is the book for you - Moscow Mafia, guns and knives, assassinations and torture, bribery and corruption in high places, bombs and explosions etc, etc. etc. - all in ever changing international settings and sometimes with a side-serving of romance.

In comparison with other escapist books I have read recently, Jet no longer has the backing of a covert organisation (like the Primal series) and most of the time is forced to act on her own. At the start of the book she has staged her own death to escape from the world of a government backed assassin but gets dragged back into danger when she is attacked by a group of hired mercenaries (of course she kills most of them).

If you like pure escapism then this is the book for you. Blake succeeds in his objective and has written a fast action kick-ass adventure introducing a deadly female hero who he promises will return in later books. I like the concept and enjoyed the book but have given it 4 stars as I do like a reality check from time to time. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the pace in the several sequels he has planned.

06 October 2012

Peter James: Dead Simple

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Good UK Police Thriller
Peter James writes good UK police thrillers but this one is not as gripping as other police thrillers I have read recently. Interestingly, in the book Inspector Grace says that he doesn't watch UK police thrillers on TV because they are not very exciting and full of police procedurals and prefers US police thrillers because they can do more and have more action. That comment is relevant to this book until the last chapters.

I liked the book (that's what 4 stars means) but didn't love it. The police characters were very realistic, but the baddies were a bit difficult to understand. In the early chapters I found things a bit tedious but things warmed up towards the ending.

The plot is intriguing - an out of control stag party where a bridegroom's 4 friends bury him in a coffin to get back at his practical jokes in the past. Things go really wrong when all 4 are killed in a traffic accident and no-one appears to know what has happened to the bridegroom. The bride and his business partner are extremely distressed.

One major hangup for me is the name of the main character. A friend has difficulty with the Phryne (fry-knee) Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood because she can't cope with the first name. Here I have difficulty with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace's last name because it is also a female first name. Throughout the book the main character is often just referred to as Grace and I kept thinking "how did that female character get involved".

02 October 2012

Kerry Greenwood: Death by Water: Phryne Fisher #15

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First Class Phryne Fisher adventure
This is another charming adventure with The Hon Phryne Fisher, a unique, beautiful, stylish, sexy and larger than life private investigator who romps through life in Melbourne in 1928 and 1929.

This time Phryne is bored because her long time Chinese lover, Lin Chung, is away and the peace and quiet of her house is disturbed by a long term visit by her sister and lady friend. She decides that it is a good time to take a cruise to New Zealand courtesy of P & O to investigate a serial jewel thief active on the last few voyages.

The descriptions of First Class on a 1920's cruise liner are delectable and as usual Phryne finds herself in the midst of intrigue and eventually murder. The scenarios of the South Island and Milford Sound are still reminiscent of the area today.

Of course Phryne solves the mysteries with her normal aplomb and also finds time to leave a satisfied lover in her wake. I missed the atmosphere of Melbourne and Phryne's household and Lin Chung, otherwise I would have given it a higher ranking.

After 15 Phryne Fisher books you would think that Kerry Greenwood would be running out of steam and ideas - possibly so but I still enjoyed this book and have a few more that I look forward to reading.