Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 December 2014

Honey Brown: Dark Horse

Stranded with a stranger
Honey Brown has once again written a top-class psychological thriller, this one set in the wild mountains of Victoria, Australia. It is a tale of two strangers who meet together in an emergency and struggle to understand what is happening to them and why they are there.

It is Christmas Day and Sarah Barnard is faced with losing everything that she treasures. Her marriage is over, her trail-riding business is about to be sold and she is set to lose all her horses, especially Tansy, her favourite black mare. In despair she rides Tansy towards remote Hangman's Hut on the summit of Devil's Mountain. On the way a flash storm turns Spinners Creek into a torrent and demolishes the only bridge back. Sarah is trapped at the Hut which is partly demolished for reconstruction and her only refuge is a rough workers' caravan, She is cold, wet and hungry.

During the storm Sarah rescues a bushwalker, Heath who is trapped in a bog nearby. They both struggle for survival in the wet and cold conditions with minimal shelter. Sarah is puzzled with why Heath is there and who he is. She soon finds herself in a position of forced intimacy for survival with a man who has many signs of being dangerous.

Honey Brown tells a tale of survival and suspicion that builds to an unexpected crescendo and then keeps you guessing until an even more unexpected twist in the tale at the finale.

This is a very different psychological tale to her previous book THROUGH THE CRACKS  which I found challenging and disturbing. Well done Honey Brown - you are surely in the top bracket of Australia's very talented authors of psychological thrillers.

My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for a copy of this book for review.

Michael Robotham: Life or Death

"Life is short. Love is vast. Live like there's no tomorrow."
This is without doubt one of the best crime thrillers I have read in 2014. It is an action-packed, adrenaline-charged, absorbing, wonderfully written and surprisingly sensitive story from one of the world's best writers of psychological fiction.

Audie Palmer was almost killed when a botched armed robbery over ten years ago left him almost brain dead from gunshot wounds. After his recovery he was imprisoned for ten years. His time in prison was not easy as he was faced by constant danger from prisoners and guards wanting to know what had happened to the millions of dollars stolen in the robbery. Despite this Audie was a survivor who baffled everyone by escaping from jail when he had only one day left before he was released.

Why would Audie want to escape when he could have walked free the next day? How is he going to survive a huge manhunt? While Audie wants to avenge his punishment and the corruption, money and treachery that put him in jail he also wants to be part of the life of someone precious to him.

Diminutive FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness gets involved when she starts to have second thoughts about the case and pieces together parts of the story that Audie has never revealed. At the same time there are others who want to track him down to prevent the truth being told. It is a tense and absorbing story full of twists and turns as Robotham takes us on a switchback ride and uncovers things that will be hard to forget.

This is not just a crime thriller, it is also a sensitive love story. Robotham tells us about Audie's early life without telling us what happened at the robbery. He tells us about Audie's intense love for Belita, a refugee from El Salvador, who tells Audie "Life is short. Love is vast. Live like there's no tomorrow."

Many successful authors stick with series that have made them successful. While Robotham has had success with his log-running series set in England featuring psychologist Joe O’Loughlin (who he promises to bring back soon), he has taken a break to show that he can write a great standalone thriller, set this time mainly in Texas.

This book shows that Australian author Michael Robotham is at the top of his form. He says on his website that LIFE OR DEATH was very special to him as, after nurturing the idea for over twenty years, he believed that he was destined to write this book. I am so glad he did because it confirms my view that he is one of the best contemporary thriller authors and I wish him every success, especially in the most important US market which is starting to know his works. Well done Michael Robotham, this is one of the rare occasions when I wish I could give a score greater than 5 stars.

I alway like to reflect on highlights of an author's prose. This quotation will remain with me for a long time:

"We take pleasure in the sound of rain, the smell of cut grass, the smiles of strangers, the feeling of dawn on a hot day. We learn things and realise we can never know more than we don’t know. We catch love like a cold and cling to it like wreckage in a storm."

28 December 2014

Susan Howatch: The Rich Are Different

"There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned"
The first thing that hit me pretty quickly was that Susan Howatch has retold the classic love story/melodrama of Julius Caesar's and Mark Antony's relationship with Cleopatra in a more modern setting during the 1920's and 1930's in the US and England.

It's a neat concept to start with a plot based on history (as Howatch did with her very popular family sagas - Cashelmara, Penmarric and Wheel of Fortune where the plots were based on things that happened in the Plantagenet era). It's even neater when the author is able to use the plot and the characters so seamlessly to create a compelling, well-written and absorbing modern novel. I must admit that I did start to look for known historical characters and events but that probably increased my enjoyment of the book.

Paul Van Zale (Caesar) is a powerful, rich and amoral New York investment banker with several marriages and many mistresses. When he is in England to fix up problems with his bank's local branch he comes face to face with Dinah Slade (Cleopatra) when she is delivered in a hamper (not rolled in a carpet) to his office. Dinah is an amazing and intelligent woman in her own right and so different to the many women that Paul has met in the past that it undermines his understanding of love.

While the plot is ancient (and you will enjoy matching the characters to historical ones) the story is a very modern one covering the 1920's and 1930's in the US and England and the characters are compelling and fascinating. They are driven by greed, cunning, ambition, revenge, love (inside and outside of marriage), need for security and hope for the lives of their many children. Divorce and births out of wedlock abound as the main characters plot their destinies.

All in all this was a very interesting book that absorbed my attention. The sequel where the offspring, especially Cornelius (Octavius) take centre stage may be similarly compelling, but I don't think it will hold my attention as well as this fascinating modern re-creation of one of the most passionate and dramatic stories of the ancient world.

22 December 2014

Adrian McKinty: In the Morning I'll be Gone: Sean Duffy 3

Seamless mixture of fiction with actual history
Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series set in "The Troubles" in Northern Island in the 1980's is one of the best fictional representation of those terrible times. Once again we follow Sean Duffy, who chose to join the police because he felt that would help end The Troubles more than joining the IRA.

Duffy is an excellent detective but he is prepared to go off-road to solve crimes which doesn't enamour him to his superiors. In the previous book in the series I HEAR SIRENS IN THE STREET he gets their ire when he upsets both his superiors and the FBI when investigating the Delorean factory and possible drug trafficking. Duffy got demoted from Detective Inspector to Sergeant and moved to normal duties and at the start of the book he is so depressed that he accepts early retirement on full pension.

Despite this Duffy has contacts that don't forget his skills and also know that he was a good friend of one of the top IRA bomb builders who was one of the 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the top security Maze jail in 1983. There are rumours that his old "friend" has been trained in advanced bomb-making skills in Libya which he could use to upgrade the IRA terror campaign. Duffy strikes a hard bargain to get back into the police force to find his "friend" before he can do irreparable damage.

The story is a mixture of fascinating insights into the minds of IRA terrorists and a clever police procedural investigation into an accident/possible murder of someone related to the escaped terrorist. McInty seamlessly mixes IRA terrorism with a murder plot and directs Duffy's investigations towards  one of the IRA's major bombing campaign.

McKinty has again written a great story set in authentic and dangerous times, probably even better than the previous books in the series. Sean Duffy is a fascinating but flawed character and I would love to see what happens to him after his adventures in this book. McKinty originally planned this series as a trilogy but by popular demand he has now written another in the series GUN STREET GIRL to be released in Australia in early January 2015 and in the US in early March 2015. I am really looking forward to that book where Duffy gets mixed up with gun runners, arms dealers, the British government, a rogue American agent with a fake identity and MI5. Sounds a great plot.

16 December 2014

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Prey

Sharpe at the Battle of Copenhagen
This is #5 chronologically in Bernard Cornwell's fantastic historical saga about Richard Sharpe, a footsoldier in the British Army during the late 18th and early 19th Century. In #4 SHARPE'S TRAFALGAR we saw Sharpe returning from India with the ship carrying him getting involved in the Battle of Trafalgar.

During the voyage Sharpe becomes deeply romantically involved with Lady Grace Hale and settles down in England with her as she prepares for the birth of their child. Everything goes wrong with Grace dying in childbirth and her aristocratic family taking the remaining wealth from his adventures in India. Sharpe is devastated and considers selling his Commission to survive but is even more devastated to learn that battlefield commissions cannot be sold because they weren't bought in the first place.

On top of all of this his posting to the 95th Rifles Regiment is also turning into a disaster as he is not accepted as a "real" officer and is posted to a behind-the-lines position as quartermaster. Just aftrer Sharpe takes extreme action to remedy his precarious financial and career dilemma he is approached by a senior officer to help with an undercover operation. At first this seems to be an easy task, to provide security to a Guards' officer to Denmark to persuade their government to surrender their fleet to the English to prevent it getting into Bonaparte's hands.

Again Cornwell places Sharpe in the centre of a major battle, once again mostly behind enemy lines where he can influence the outcome. This time it is the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 where the British Army and Navy bombard the city into defeat and capture the fleet, the biggest remaining outside of England following the Battle of Trafalgar.

Cornwell has an amazing ability to seamlessly blend historical reality, characters and battles with Sharpe's adventures to give us an action-packed history. I had absolutely no knowledge of this part of history and was amazed at the audacity of the English in carrying out a major bombardment so far from home which will be remembered as one of the first bombardments in Europe that was a general attack on the populace as well as the opposing military.

Once again Sharpe is confronted with a cunning and unscrupulous adversary and has to fight for his life. In the process he also makes an emotional connection to a woman who may help him to move on from the loss of his beloved Grace.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

09 December 2014

Jeffrey Archer: Prisoner of Birth

A clever tale by a master storyteller
This was another revisit to a book I had read a while ago prompted by an Amazon deal for a Kindle copy for pocket change. Once again I enjoyed revisiting a book I had enjoyed before and surprisingly there were only a few parts that I really remember.

There are several parts to a pretty complex plot. At the beginning East-Ender Danny Cartwright proposes to his pregnant girlfriend, Beth Wilson and then goes out with Bernie, Beth's brother and Danny's best mate, to a pub to celebrate. There are four drunken men in the pub and one of them makes obscene suggestions to Beth and then picks a fight with Danny and Bernie. The outcome of the brawl is that Danny is stabbed in the leg by the leader of their opponents who then stabs Bernie fatally.

The twist in the tale is that the leader of the pack, who call themselves "the Musketeers", is an eminent and very clever lawyer who concocts a bogus story that Danny killed his best friend. Danny is arrested for murder and in court the Musketeers stick by their story and Danny is given a life sentence.

Archer then brings his own prison experience into play when he describes prison conditions and the developing personal relationship with his cellmates, especially with Nick Moncrieff, an intelligent and cultured heir to a knighthood who looks uncannily similar to Bernie.. Nick helps Bernie to with his education and social skills and they become inseparable. This sets the scene for Danny’s determination to seek revenge on each of the Musketeers.

It is a very entertaining story as Danny plots his revenge and as uses his new social and business skills to  track down each Musketeer and establish a new life. Jeffrey Archer's books can never be called literary fiction but there are few authors of this genre who can beat him as a master storyteller of complex and entertaining plots.

07 December 2014

Candice Fox: Eden

Compelling gritty story about evil
Last year Candice Fox made a stunning debut with HADES which emotionally flogged me with the pace of the action, the violence, the body count and episodes of pure fear. It is always hard to follow up on such a performance but IMHO she has done this with EDEN - quite a different story but just as gritty, heavily based on savagery but showing some signs of humanity that was missing from her first book.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It is a story about an imaginary savage underworld that most people cannot envisage - murderers, rapists, peodophiles and even a cannibal. Some even come from respectable society and the police force. This time we hear the story of how Hades Archer became a monster whose main profession is disposing of dead bodies. Once again, as with his "adopted" children, Eric and Eden, he became what he was because he was taken in as a child by a monster.

At the end of HADES Candice Fox left us with Detectives Eden Archer and Frank Bennett both under traumatic stress following the death of Eden's brother Eric and Frank's girlfriend Martina. They were taken off active duty until they complete a full psychological program.

Frank is still stunned by what happened and uses alcohol and pills to placate his sorrow but Eden's upbringing covers any personal reactions. Eden tries to get Frank back to work to take him out of his misery. She asks him to do some work for father, which he surprisingly accepts and he finds that even Hades has his vulnerabilities.

When they are back in the force as homicide partners Eden risks her life by accepting an undercover assignment in the company of with the worst of low-life to uncover a possible serial killer of three missing young women. While Eden's upbringing leaves her emotionally cold and unfeeling, this time we get the feeling that deep down there may be some good among the evil as she takes enormous risks to find the killer.

While EDEN lacked the stunning impact of HADES it was still a brilliant work of creative writing about an underworld that begs imagination. Well done Candice Fox, you have shown that you can keep up your creativity and change it sufficiently to keep things absorbing, At the end you left us with a fascinating clue to keep us on tenterhooks until the next book.

My thanks to The Reading Room and Random House Australia for providing a copy of this book for review.

06 December 2014

Peter Watt: And Fire Falls

War in the Pacific
Christmas is coming so it is time for the next annual episode from Peter Watt of his gripping Australian historical family saga about the MacIntoshes and the Duffys. This time the saga changes from the war in Europe to the war in the Pacific as Australia moves to the frontline with the Japanese sweeping across the Pacific and into New Guinea as a springboard for an invasion of Australia.

In Sydney, Donald and Sarah MacIntosh battle for the support of their dominant but ailing father to get control of the huge MacIntosh business empire. With the help of some influential "friends" the business is thriving from wartime contracts and Donald is unlikely to enlist or be conscripted to fight for his country. In contrast their cousin David MacIntosh, a part-owner of the family business, has been fighting for years, first in Spain and now in Syria.

The Duffy family are spread across the world. WWI hero Tom Duffy is running his many properties in Queensland and missing his daughter Jessica who is now a nun at a mission in New Guinea which is threatened by the Japanese. Dianne Duffy stays behind in Singapore as the Japanese overrun the famous "fortress". James Duffy, raised by the Barringtons, his very rich US maternal grandparents, has taken his father's name and career as an ace flyer. He finds himself in the thick of the fierce air and ground battle for Guadalcanal. Other Duffy's get involved in the terrible battle in appalling tropical conditions along the Kokoda track to stop the Japanese advance on Port Moresby.

As always the mythical elderly Aboriginal warrior Wallarie still haunts the family members, protecting some and warning others of danger.

I have spelt out a few details of the family history because after a year it is increasingly difficult to remember the main characters and their heritage. A family tree shows the complex relationships between the families but it doesn't show up well on a Kindle so I suggest you load up your Kindle book on your PC to see the family tree properly.

My main gripe is that I may have to wait a year to find out what happens next, by which time I will have forgotten most of what happened before. Watt's latest books in the series have seemed to be too short compared with earlier ones because I am always looking for what happens next. With this book being set in New Guinea I did get a bit confused as the action overlaps with Watt's great Papua trilogy which finished with the THE PACIFIC covering some of the historical ground in this book.

Come what may it is always a delight to revisit Watt's great Australian saga about the MacIntoshes and the Duffys, the goodies and the baddies (who were pretty mild this time) and think about what comes next. Those of you with really good memories may remember the cottage at Manly and what happened there that changed the lives of both families many years ago. The cottage again plays a key role in the relationships between the families - Wallerie hasn't forgotten.

PS Last year on Peter Watt's Facebook I was chosen from his fans to have my name used as one of the minor characters in his next book. Look out for a brave Lieutenant who fought alongside David MacIntosh in Syria and in New Guinea. Thanks Peter for the honour.

Tony Park: The Hunter

A mystery/thriller adventure set in African Game Parks
This time Tony Park moves away from his successful historically based adventures set in Africa to a page-turning contemporary mystery/thriller adventure story set in some of the most magnificent African game parks.

Hudson Brand has been a mercenary but now mostly works as a top safari guide. He also helps out as an insurance investigator with suspicious cases - then he hunts people. Brand is down on his luck when he is asked to find Linley Brown who has been named as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy after her best friend Kate has been reported dead in a fiery car accident in Zimbabwe. Linley survived the crash and has recovered from her injuries. Kate's sister Anna believes that the insurance claim is a scam.

The trail leads Brand into Zimbabwe on the track of the Doctor who identified Kate and to find clues to Linley's whereabouts. Brand knows that there are unscrupulous Doctors there that have helped with fictitious insurance claims. At the same time South African detectives are also looking for Linley as a con-artist stealing from luxury homes. They are also looking for Brand as a suspected serial killer who has been murdering prostitutes.

This sets the scene for  a chase which roams from South Africa to Zimbabwe and eventually Kenya, mostly against the settings of beautiful game parks and magnificent wildlife. Tony Park has written an enthralling page-turning mystery/thriller adventure with some surprising twists in the tale. It is a good read but IMHO not as good as some of his earlier historically based factional thrillers.

29 November 2014

Nora Roberts: A Will and a Way

An old one but a good one                        
This book was originally released in 1986 and has recently been released as an e-book. It passed the test of time for one of Roberts' early M&B type romances. This is not my normal fare but after an operation I had a need for an interlude from heavy thrillers. This filled the bill - while it does follow Roberts' early romance formulas it is sufficiently different to make it a good read for the genre.

Uncle Jolley was an eccentric but very wealthy old man who disliked and distrusted most of his family but was very close to and doted on his niece Pandora McVie and distant relative Michael Donahue (his mother had been Uncle Jolley's niece by Jolley's son's second marriage). The only problem was that Pandora and Michael had never been good friends.

Uncle Jolley had the last laugh on his close family members when he died. He left his collection of magic tricks to his son, and a nephew who kept the first dollar he had made was left the last dollar Jolley made, appropriately framed. Grand nephew Biff was left his collection of matches in the hope that at last he would set the world on fire.

When it came to the main bequest Jolley left most of his considerable wealth and his huge house (Jolley's Folly) to Pandora and Michael "because they understood and cared". The bequest came with a kicker - they had to move into Jolley's Folly and live there together for six months (with only 2 days away) for the estate to revert to them in equal shares.

Jolley sets up Pandora and Michael to live closely together and really get to know one another. He also stirs up his family to find ways to make sure that Pandora and Michael can't fulfil the requirements of the will.

It was an entertaining and interesting romantic setup, against a background of dirty business by the family. I needed the break and it was especially rewarding as the Kindle book had been discounted to pocket change.

Alan Gold & Mike Jones: Stateless

The battle for the birth of Israel
Alan Gold and Mike Jones have crafted an interesting tale about the fight for the birth of Israel and the ancient history that compelled the Jews to try to return to their heritage.

Shalman Etzion was brought up in a Jewish Kibbutz in Palestine. Judita Ludmilla was raised as a Jew in Moscow under the brutal Stalin regime and came to Israel as a refugee. Both of them met as freedom fighters for the new State of Israel against the occupying British Army and become life partners despite their different backgrounds.

It is the end of WWII and refugees from the Holocaust and from Eastern Europe are frantically trying to find sanctuary in Israel. The fight for a permanent home for the Jews in the State of Israel is a bitter one where Arab and Jewish forces fight the British in an atmosphere of hatred and suspicion. Judit becomes one of the fiercest and most ruthless fighters - her secret is that she has been trained in Russia under Beria's guidance to push for dominance that will give Russia a foothold in the Middle East and a warm water port.

As the troubles escalate Shalman gets a better understanding of  the plight of the Arabs and with an Arab friend starts to explore the fascinating archeology and history of the region and withdraw from the fight for independence. Judit becomes increasingly committed to her cause and more distant from Shalman and their family.

This is a very interesting factional history of the struggle for the foundation of modern Israel. I was distracted by an interwoven theme about the ancient history of the Jews in Israel and the Middle East, with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, the Islamic influence in Baghdad and the brutal incursion of the Crusaders in the region. While this may be fascinating  history it spoilt the enjoyment of the book for me. My guess it that one of the authors wrote the more contemporary stuff and the other the historical stuff. This time their work didn't fit as seamlessly as it did in Bloodline.

The end of the book when Britain withdraws sets up a situation in the region that has still not been resolved.

Without the distraction of the historical stuff I would have given this book a solid 4 stars but had to downgrade it to 3stars because of the conflict in my mind between the two major themes of the book.

Adrian d'Hagé: The Alexandria Connection

Mixture of financial thriller and unbelievable historical conspiracy

If this had just been a financial conspiracy thriller it might have worked well. The author is skilled and very knowledgeable and produced a pretty good financial thriller. Unfortunately he had to mix it up with some historical conspiracy nonsense which completely spoilt my enjoyment of the book.

CIA Agent Curtis O'Connor and archaeologist Aleta Weiszmann make a strange combination. In a back alley bookstore in Alexandria Aleta stumbles on some ancient papyrus that give her clues to the location of the lost famous library of Alexandria that disappeared beneath the sea after an earthquake at the time of the Ptolemy pharaohs. At the same time as they dive into Alexandria harbour a mysterious group of very powerful individuals from throughout the Western and Muslim world are meeting in the city to discuss plans for world financial domination.

Thousands have tried to find the library over the years and Aleta not only finds the remains of the library first go but also discovers some key papyrus stored in watertight containers that contain the key to the Giza pyramids. Mission impossible!

d'Hagé then leads us through two major plot themes, world financial domination and possible radio active terrorism, and a hunt for documents that would change the understanding of the meaning of the great pyramids of Giza, I can understand the former but the latter is so much fantasy as to belie my imagination. Connecting the two plots are unscrupulous art collectors who will kill to get their hands on treasures such as a lost Van Dyke painting and have the contacts to arrange a robbery at the Egyptian museum to steal the gold death mask of Tutankhamun.

Does this sound too complex to be believable? Of course it does. I could have given a reasonable rating if this was just a financial conspiracy thriller but the inclusion of the historical conspiracy stuff left me reeling.

Chris Carter: An Evil Mind

An Encyclopedia of Evil
This is probably one of the best psychological thrillers I have read this year. I can't say that I enjoyed it - how can you enjoy a story about a serial killer who not only enjoys killing but gets a kick out of torture before death and dismemberment of the body before and after death.

A freak accident when an elderly man has a heart attack and crashes into a parked car opens the trunk containing a couple of savagely tortured heads. When the police arrest the owner of the car, Liam Shaw, he refuses to tell them anything.

When the case is handed over to the FBI, the apprehended man asks to talk to Robert Hunter who is now lead detective with the Ultra Violent Crime Unit of the LAPD. Hunter soon discovers that Liam Shaw is his college room-mate Lucien Folter, a former PhD student in Criminal Psychology. Liam Shaw died many years ago and Lucien had taken his identity.

Hunter is partnered by FBI Special Agent Courtney Taylor and they soon realise that Lucien may be a serial killer who has been kidnapping, torturing and mutilating victims across the US for at least 25 years. Lucien is a dark and intelligent killer who soon gets Hunter and Taylor caught up in a clever web of intrigue as he plays a clever cat-and-mouse game with them which they must join if they are to find all the hidden and vicious secrets. Lucien keeps psychological control by slowly giving out clues to his dark world and his many victims. Hunter soon finds that Lucien's dark world has had an enormous impact on his personal world.

This is a chilling study of an intelligent, manipulative, and psychopathic personality. What is even more chilling is that Lucien may have documented his feelings about what he has done in an "Encyclopedia of Evil".

This is certainly not a book for the faint hearted or squeamish as the body count climbs to unspeakable levels. It is a heart-thumping and compelling and absorbing story about a totally evil person.

28 November 2014

Alafair Burke: 212

Masterly police procedural
I have been meaning to read Alafair Burke's books for a while and I am delighted that I took the plunge with 212, part of the Ellie Hatcher series about a young, smart and brave NYPD homicide detective. This is a fast paced and intriguing mystery loosely based on actual events but woven into a page-turning plot that is as good as most of the top crime thrillers I have read this year.

The story starts with the murder of bodyguard Robert Robo Mancini, whose bullet-ridden corpse turns up in a luxury apartment in a top of the market building, the "212".  Mancini worked for Manhattan property tycoon Sam Sparks who lets his trusted employees and friends use the apartment from time to time. The 911 call comes from an unknown female and there are no clues about how she be found. During the investigation Ellie and her partner get interested in how the apartment has been used and asks a judge court for permission to pursue the accounts of Sparkes' business. Accidentally Ellie gets on the wrong side of the judge and spends a night in the cells.

Ellie and her detective partner then investigate the lives and deaths of part-time high class call girls and the story twists and turns unexpectedly as the lives of the call girls get connected with the original murder. While she makes some mistakes, she is a top-class investigator who keeps on working the case until she discovers the truth.

I will certainly be reading more books in this series and adding Alafair Burke to my list of favourite authors.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Fortress

The last of Sharpe's adventures in India
This is #3 and the last of Sharpe's adventures in India as a foot-soldier serving under General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). As usual Bernard Cornwell writes action-packed historical fiction that places Sharpe in the middle of some of the most famous battles in history. This time the action focuses on the Siege of Gawilghur, a virtually unconquerable fortress, where Wellesley succeeded in breaking the back of the Mahratta empire.

After saving Wellesley's life during the Battle of Assaye, Richard Sharpe has been given a battlefield commission. While it was Sharpe's greatest ambition to become an officer, he is finding himself alienated from his men who don't consider he is a real officer and from his fellow officers because he is not a proper Officer-and-a-Gentleman (Sharpe is the illegitimate orphan of a London whore who enlisted in the army to avoid prison). Despite this Sharpe starts to show the leadership in battle that will eventually make him one of the most effective officers in the regiment.

Once again Sharpe conflicts with his nemesis Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill who has joined up with an unscrupulous officer in charge of supplies and is selling essential battlefield supplies such as horseshoes and ammunition to the local merchants. When Sharpe hunts down the merchants and defeats this black marketeering, Hakeswill hits back by capturing Sharpe and stealing the fortune in gems that he plundered from Tippoo Sultan in "Sharpe's Tiger".

The finale is historical battle action at its best with Sharpe leading the scaling the impregnable walls of  Gawilghur and helping to win one of the most decisive and unexpected victories of the Indian campaign. Cornwell has taken some licence with the battle but for the most part the actions are authentic and compelling.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

Tom Clancy: Executive Orders (A Jack Ryan Novel, Book 8)

Disappointing, too long and too many unbelievable plots
From time to time I revisit a book that I read and enjoyed several years ago when Amazon discounts a book to pocket-money cost. I recall this book because it was the follow up from the end of Book 7 when Jack Ryan accidentally became President when a 747 piloted by a rogue Japanese pilot crashed into Congress and killed the President, most of Congress, the Supreme Court judges and most chiefs of the military.

Jack had just been sworn in as "caretaker" Vice President after the resignation of his predecessor when a sex scandal was revealed. At the time the plane crashed Jack was just leaving the area and was quickly taken over by the Secret Service and is left with the job of establishing the US Government almost from scratch.

While he is getting on top of this gargantuan task President Ryan is faced with a host of major international problems. Iran takes over Iraq and forms the United Islamic Republic (based on Shia Islam not the current ISIS which follows Sunni Islam). India and China back up Iran in their attempts to invade Saudi Arabia and make it part of their republic. An Ebola epidemic starts in the US from a biological warfare attack, and in the background a group of extreme right-wing rednecks from rural US plan to bomb the White House. Ryan is also faced with personal danger when sleeper agents target kidnapping  his children and also assassinating the President.

Oh dear what a bundle of overlapping and unbelievable plots!!

The book is 1,350 pages of turgid text and could easily have been written in under 500 pages. I skipped through many pages - eg who wants to learn how to fire shells from a tank or reload rocket launchers. It was a very disappointing revisit to Clancy's earlier work. Politico/terrorist writers have become so much more competent since this book was written.

27 November 2014

Lisa Scottoline: Betrayed

Carrier carries the day
Lisa Scottoline has morphed her long running successful Rosato & Associates series into Rosato & DiNunzio after Mary DiNunzio became a partner in the all female law firm. Mary and Judy Carrier are still greatest of friends but their friendship has been altered with Mary's elevation to partner. Carrier's professional relationship within the firm is disturbed when Bennie Rosato thrusts 75 cases of asbestos litigation on her shoulders which will take years process and are personally abhorrent to Judy.

Judy is going through a lot of personal stress with her long-standing relationship with Frank under strain, when she hears that her favourite Aunt Barb is fighting breast cancer and is about to have a double mastectomy. Barb introduces Judy to her best friend Iris Juarez, a Mexican illegal who helps Barb with her rose garden and works in appalling conditions at one of the local independent mushroom growing factories. Top marks to Lisa Scottoline for revealing the something about the lives of Mexican illegals in the USA.

A couple of days before Barb's operation she is shocked by Iris's death from an apparent heart attack at the wheel of her car. The police are convinced that it is accidental but Judy is suspicious, especially when she finds that Iris has hidden $50,000 in notes in various places around Barb's house. This leads Judy into a dangerous investigation of what looks like the proceeds of drug trafficking. At the same time she confronts some painful personal confrontations that unearth long-buried family secrets.

This story is more about Judy, her family and a personal quest for vengeance than the kind of legal thriller I expected where Scottoline really excels. It is a page-turner, carefully plotted with lots of, frequently unbelievable action, with enough twists in the plot and the family circumstances to keep the reader absorbed.

On the last page Scottoline leaves us with a seed that should be a great theme for the next in the Rosato & DiNunzio series.

20 November 2014

Vince Flynn: Transfer of Power

The first Mitch Rapp book written is still the best
Transfer of Power was not the first Mitch Rapp adventure timewise written by the late Vince Flynn but it was the first book that he wrote in the series and IMHO it is still the best. While Transfer of Power was written in 1999, two years before 9/11, it covered the threat of extremist terrorism on US soil in a way that almost made 9/11 seem tame.

This is classic Mitch Rapp, covert CIA operator and assassin, disguised as a simple-minded elderly and grubby Arab street-person hunting down a lead on master terrorist Rafique Aziz by kidnapping one of his closest associates, Fara Harut. After the kidnapping Rapp soon discovers that Harut knows about a plot to invade the White House and kill the American President - but by the time Rapp warns his CIA boss Irene Kennedy the plot is in action.

Rafique Aziz is already at the White House, posing as a Saudi Prince, when his fellow terrorists gain access to the building, leaving dozens murdered, almost one hundred other held hostage and booby-trap bombs set up around the building. Quick action by the Secret Service moves the president to an underground bunker but the terrorists have plans to break into the bunker.

Rapp quickly gets involved in a high level meeting chaired by the Vice-President which plans ways to negotiate with the terrorists for the release of the hostages. Rapp soon tells them in no uncertain terms how stupid their plans are. With the help of the military Rapp finds a way into the White House to try and save the President and the hostages.

This is a classic adrenaline-filled politico/terrorist thriller that has stood the test of time. I was bowled over with it when it was first published and I was still excited and impressed when I revisited it 15 years later.

05 November 2014

Fiona McIntosh: Nightingale

Engaging and memorable romantic tale of WWI
Fiona McIntosh has written an engaging and memorable romantic tale of WWI that stretches from the beaches and hills of Gallipoli to Cairo, Istanbul and London.

Claire Nightingale is a British nurse on a hospital ship who is briefly allowed to go ashore at Gallipoli to give emergency treatment to the wounded. She meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren, bloody and muddy as he brings a friend for medical help under heavy fire. Despite the atrocious and dangerous  situation there is an immediate bond and attraction between them. While Claire loses touch with Jamie she never loses faith that she will meet him again at the end of the war.

This is historical romantic fiction at its best, despite the harrowing circumstances of war, especially the terrible conditions faced by the Australians at Gallipoli. Despite the war McIntosh captures the touching and personal side of war when Jamie briefly meets, and makes a commitment, to a young Turkish soldier during a truce to clear No Man's Land of the dead.

I really loved this book because I have visited, albeit only briefly, many of the places in the book - Anzac Cove, Istanbul, Cairo and London - which McIntosh brought to life so well at a time of world calamity. I highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book. This review is posted by MonicaD.

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Relationships, Deceit and Tragedy
At first I didn't know what to make of this book but as it unfolded I got immersed in a story of unusual relationships and the tragic results of deceit.

Widowed Mrs Wray and her 26 year old single daughter Frances are impoverished after WWI and in 1922 are forced to take in boarders as "Paying Guests". The first guests are a slightly eccentric but not very loving young married couple, Lillian and Len Barber. At first Frances, still suffering from the loss of her brother in the war, keeps her distance but slowly finds herself  emotionally attracted to Lillian.

While the start of the book was pretty slow as the story evolved I got more fascinated with the relationships, the lies, the tragedy and eventually the unexpected ending. Great reading - well recommended.

Many thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book for review. This review is posted by MonicaD

01 November 2014

Pippa Croft: The First Time We Met

Entertaining, light and steamy read
From time to time I take a break and move out of my normal wheelhouse of thrillers and historical literary fiction and put a toe into the water of contemporary romance to see what the water feels like. With trepidation I did this with E L James' immensely popular FSOG and was appalled at the public's appreciation of sexual relationship based on dominance and physical abuse. This time I looked at THE FIRST TIME WE MET  to see if another author from a top publishing house (Penguin) could produce something steamy that was not tacky and overly erotic.

Lauren Cusack comes from a reasonably rich American family, with a father who is a respected and powerful Senator. She battles her parents to be able to take her Masters studies in Art History at Oxford University. Shortly after getting to Oxford she meets and is immediately attracted to handsome and arrogant Alexander Hunt who matches her idea of an eminently sexy male. Alexander (never Alex) knows this and is very unhappy when Lauren plays hard-to-get. He is an incredibly rich English aristocrat, heir to an immense estate. who believes that he can get anything he wants - until he meets Lauren.

There are a couple of great scenes that made me enjoy this book. First Lauren's refusal of a Cartier necklace worth tens of thousands of dollars, which makes Alexander even keener to have a relationship with her, to the extent of kicking down the door of her college accommodation. The second scene(s) come later in the book when Lauren meets Alexander's previous girl-friend on his home territory at the massive Falconbury House. The bitchy relationship between the two very attractive women is almost feral and very funny.

Of course in this kind of book the relationship between Lauren and Alexander is steamy and intimate but it doesn't have the same erotic and sadistic and masochistic focus of some other best selling books of this genre. All in all there is a bit of a plot, and on the whole the two main players are independent, intelligent and sensitive people. The choice of a relationship between an independent American female and an arrogant English aristocrat is a bit far fetched.

Of course the finale turns out to be an emotional cliffhanger to make the reader want to move on to the sequel (or 2 sequels in this case). While I enjoyed the interlude and would recommend it to those who follow the steamy romantic genre without too much erotic focus, I have still to make up my mind if I will continue with the series or go back to my comfort food of heavy thrillers.

David Baldacci: The Escape

Puller vs Puller
David Baldacci returns again this year with an exciting thriller, the third of his series about John Puller, a former war hero who is one of the best military investigators in the US Army's Criminal Investigative Division. This time Puller is faced with one of the most dangerous and controversial cases in his career - to find a maximum security prisoner from the Leavenworth Military Prison who has made a miraculous escape and left an unknown dead body in his cell. The case is controversial because the escapee is Puller's elder brother Bobby who was convicted by a military court of  serious national security crimes.

The first couple of chapters about how the escape happened set the scene for an absorbing chase to find how and why the escape happened and to find and arrest Bobby. What is surprising is that a trio of top military brass ask Puller to find his brother and bring him back for justice especially as Bobby has an almost eidetic memory of important military secrets. Puller soon finds that the whole thing reeks of conspiracy at the highest level with possible overseas influence within the security agencies of the US.Also he soon not sure if Bobby was actually guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned.

Puller is normally a loner but he is forced to work with enigmatic (and of course attractive) US intelligence officer, Captain Veronica Knox who he has problems trusting. Of course she has problems trusting Puller, especially about how will react when they finally hunt down his brother. The plot has many twists and turns and is absorbing reading. As with other recent Baldacci thrillers the plot sometimes verges on the unbelievable but this time it doesn't go over the believability barrier too much.

After THE FORGOTTEN Baldacci has brought John Puller back from looking like a Jack Reacher clone to his military CID roots. Baldacci has the talent to create a number of very different and compelling lead characters and Puller is now towards the top of the list. My main reservation is that Puller is not as charismatic as some of the other ones - especially Oliver Stone and the Camel Club. The finale certainly sets the scene for an interesting return sometime later on.

25 October 2014

John Grisham: Gray Mountain

Classic Grisham Legal Thriller
Gray Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains no longer exists. The pristine forests have gone, the rock blasted and bulldozed into the valleys, and the coal seams have been harvested. All that is left is a barren wilderness as Big Coal goes after profits. This is the theme of John Grisham's latest legal thriller.

Grisham returns to the kind of legal thriller that made him famous, this time  about a young, resourceful but inexperienced female lawyer who uncovers secrets that have been hidden or protected for years. He introduces us to Samantha Kofer, an up-and-coming lawyer for one of the biggest law firms in NYC, working exhaustingly long hours on boring contractual issues as an apprenticeship to a partnership that would deliver her a world of privilege and wealth.

It is the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the closing down of the credit markets that thunders through the top firms in NYC. Samantha's work on real estate construction contracts for major buildings disappears overnight and with it her job. Her only hope of possibly retaining her job when things get better and maintain her health benefits is to take a job with a nonprofit organisation, possibly for a year or so. This takes her to the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the heart of Appalachia to meet Mattie Wyatt who has been providing free legal aid in the area for years.

Samantha is immediately taken from her comfort zone as a cog in a huge legal firm and thrown into direct contact with disadvantaged people needing help with all kinds of genuine personal problems. This means not only doing things she has never done before but facing up to litigation in the courts which was also never part of her career path. It also means living in a small remote community, so different from the bustle of NYC that was once her home.

Before she realises it she is thrown into the world of Big Coal which has made enormous impacts on the environment through the demolition of magnificent wilderness mountains through open cut strip mining. She soon finds how the powerful world of Big Coal also has had a pervasive influence on the health of the miners and the community. Samantha quickly learns the dangers of dealing with the all powerful coal companies as her investigations and resourcefulness leads her deeper into this unsavoury world, and she discovers secrets that have remained buried deep in the mountains which put her in peril.

She is introduced to these issues by enigmatic Jason Donovan, a local lawyer whose family home was on Gray Mountain with a personal crusade taking on big coal companies about the damage that they have made to the local environment of the Appalachian Mountains and the community. While she finds him charming and exciting, her initial reaction is that he is nothing but trouble in more ways than one.

Samantha gradually faces up to a legal world where the welfare of clients comes first and billable hours last and a community that needs her. Her character seems to be set up for a return in future books which will be worth waiting for.

I haven't read John Grisham's books for a while and am glad that I returned to a book that goes back to Grisham's classic issue based legal fiction genre with its fast pace, great characters and twists, and turns. I got absorbed and concerned when reading this book - that is my greatest recommendation.

21 October 2014

Steve Gannon: LA Sniper

Exciting and emotionally gripping - highly recommended
Steve Gannon's KANE series has long been one of my favourites - exciting and emotionally challenging. After "Song for the Asking", "Kane" and "Allison" I wondered how Gannon could keep up the pace with another book in the series. The answer is that Steve has hit the spot with a somewhat different book that focuses on Dan Kane but always has his family firmly nearby. While you can read this book as a stand-alone story, you will appreciate it more if you read the earlier books in order because the Kane family details are so important.

Dan Kane is a top homicide detective with the LAPD who gets results, sometimes by doing his own thing which upsets his superiors and his actions have also brought danger to his family. At home Kane has been a dominant father (his daughter Alison calls him "Dadzilla") and he has been through several shattering events with them, some of which he has not been able to cope with. Nate is the only child still permanently living at home and is going through a tough and angry adolescence that neither parent can completely understand.

Kane's autocratic dominance over his family is waning as his children grow up, and the family is glued together by shared traumatic experiences, love and respect, and a mutual love of music (Catheryn a cellist with the LA Philharmonic and eldest son Travis is studying at Juilliard). One evening they are all attending a concert where Catheryn performs stunningly as a solo cellist with the Philharmonic when Kane is called out urgently - someone has shot/assassinated two LA Patrolmen.

Kane quickly becomes a key part of  a huge task force led by Lieutenant Sneed, Kane's long term nemesis, searching for a very clever and deliberate assassin whose sole objective is to kill as many LA policemen as possible. The assassin is a master marksman, leaves no clues, alters his modus operandi to confuse and is always one step ahead of the police as the body count rises. As usual Kane eventually makes his own investigations against the advice of Sneed.

Steve Gannon delivers an extremely well written police procedural which has two unexpected brutal climaxes. As Kane is the principal player, Gannon's use of the first person in chapters about Kane is especially effective. He also leaves us with a final chapter about the Kane family that will gut your emotions (remember to keep the tissues handy if you are sensitive). Gannon also leaves us enough seeds in the story to make me believe that a possible future book might happen sometime - I look forward to that.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to get an Advanced Readers Copy of THE BURNING ROOM, the forthcoming Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly, While I rated that book as "a great police/crime novel by the finest (American) crime writer working today" I found it comparatively bland and vanilla when compared with LA SNIPER which now has a place in my top reads of 2014. Steve Gannon is a talented writer of crime/family adventure thrillers who deserves every success.

An Advanced Copy of this book was provided to me by the author for my honest review. While I have a regular email connection with Steve, I have never met or spoken with him and this review is an honest and personal assessment of this book.

12 October 2014

Barry Lancet: Tokyo Kill

Exciting and different cross-cultural thriller
This is the second in Barry Lancet's series featuring Jim Brodie, born in Japan to American parents who went to Japanese schools and integrated the Japanese society as well as any Gaijin (foreigner) is allowed. He has a great expertise in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts and shares his time as a dealer in Japanese art and antiques in San Francisco with running his late father's Tokyo-based private investigation firm.

Brodie is in Tokyo when Yoji Miura, the son of a Japanese WWII veteran, asks Brodie's firm to investigate the killing of some of his father's military colleagues. His father, Akira, now in his 80's, believes that the killings are linked to his service in China during the war when, under orders, he had kept control over a large area of China through terror. He believes that the Chinese Triads are following up on a threat made during the war that they would avenge his actions.

The action ramps up when Yoji is battered to death the next day and his body dismembered in a way that suggests that the Triads are behind the killings. Lancet then takes us on a complex and thrilling chase to find the killers and the motive. This involves Brodie with Japanese gangsters, Chinese spies, and various groups skilled in martial arts. Always lurking in the background is lost Chinese art and antiquities and legendary Samurai swords capable of killing with one blow. The body count grows and again Brodie has to use his martial arts skills to keep alive.

Brodie's Japanese wife was killed in a house fire several years ago and he is bringing up a precocious seven year old daughter on his own in both American and Japanese cultures. This time we see a tentative personal relationship developing with Rie Hoshino. one of Tokyo's few policewomen. It will be interesting to follow this cross-cultural relationship in future books.

I was especially interested in this book because I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years in the 1980's and got a Gaijin's view of the Japanese people and society. Many of Lancet's insightful observations of Japanese life and even many of the places in Tokyo mentioned in the book were very familiar to me.

Lancet's second book is better than his first, JAPANTOWN, because it has more believable villains and action and doesn't have such an overblown major conspiracy background. Once again Lancet shows us how his own background of living in Japan for many years (which parallels Brodie's) gives us an almost unique entry into the mysteries of Japanese life and culture. It certainly was a thrilling page-turner and I will be looking forward to more books in this interesting and exciting series.

My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for a copy of this book for review.

08 October 2014

Robyn Carr: Shelter Mountain

Virgin River again gives shelter someone in need
Once again I decided to have a break from my normal diet of heavy thrillers and settle down with a light romance. This is #2 in the very popular romantic series by Robyn Carr which explores the dynamics of very small-town USA and the effect the town and its people have on traumatically bruised characters who seek refuge in the town.

This time Paige Lassiter is on the run from her abusive husband. She ends up in Virgin River hoping to find somewhere to stay with her son until she can change her identity to protect herself from her husband. In foul weather she walks into the local bar when John Middleton (Preacher to his friends) is about to close. John doesn't look like a guardian angel, over 6 foot tall and muscular with shaved head and tattoos. Preacher has been on active service with the Marines for years and has settled down in Virgin River because his old Sergeant Jack Sheridan runs the local bar and restaurant.

John has had little contact with women but is immediately drawn to help Paige and her young son Chris. While understandingly being very suspicious of men Page accepts Preacher's offer of somewhere for both of them to stay for the night and plans to leave first thing in the morning. This doesn't happen and Paige soon finds that Preacher, despite his appearance, is a big teddy bear who quickly falls head-over-heels in love with her and begins to love Chris as his own in a way that his father was never able to do.

This is a sentimental and touching story of two apparently different individuals beginning to come together as a couple and as a family. All of the other characters from the first book are there to give a helping hand especially when Paige's husband tries to find her.

Well done Robyn Carr - you have created an environment and a formula for a light romance series that will warm the hearts of many.