Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 May 2015

Roger Hobbs: Ghostman

Great debut crime thriller
I read a lot of crime thrillers and once in a while something new and remarkable comes along. This book meets and exceeds that grade. It has already gone into my list of best reads of 2015.

Ghostman doesn't exist. He has no fingerprints, social security number, college record, official driving licence or passport. But Ghostman is an accomplished bank robber who is at the top of his game, and known by the top operators in his field. Ghostman is average height, average looking and vanishes into the background. He has a collection of identities and can change his appearance at the drop of a hat. This time he is Jack Delton:

"My name isn't really Jack. My name isn't John, George, Michael or Steven. It isn't on my driver's licences, and it isn't on my passports of credit cards. My real name isn't anywhere..." Jack has been between jobs for some time when he gets a call from Marcus Hayes ("he was the most brutal man I had ever known").

Marcus was "jugmaker" (a person who plans a heist). His latest heist has gone badly wrong but one of his gang had got away and disappeared wounded with over a million dollars of cash which was being delivered by the Federal Reserve to an Atlantic City casino. The big problem was that the cash was still part of the "Federal Payload" and was booby trapped to explode in 48 hours. Marcus gives Jack less than 48 hours to get him the missing money. The real problem is that a drug baron "The Wolf" (who if anything is more brutal than Marcus) is after the money as well.

I don't know if the description of the Federal Payload and the security precautions are real, but the details were believable and fascinating. I don't know if the descriptions of other things relating to bank robberies were real but they were also believable and fascinating. It all made great theatre (and probably the basis for a great movie).

Hobbs introduces us to his underworld of bank robbers. The Jugmaker doesn't get physically involved in the heist. He uses "buttonmen" for violent parts, "boxmen" to crack safes, "wheelmen" to drive getaway cars, and "ghostmen" (professional imposters who nobody knows and will never know) to get all the information needed to plan the operation.

All in all Ghostman is a remarkable and accomplished debut novel written during Hobbs' senior years in college. It has been published in more than 25 countries and climbed many bestseller lists. As a potential movie it has been compared with "Heat" and "Ocean's Eleven".

Hobbs' next novel "Vanishing Games", also featuring the Ghostman, will be released on 7 July 2015. I hope it matches up to the promise of this book.

Andrew Gross: Everything To Lose

A mixed up thriller
The main theme of this book is "that every life is the story of a single mistake, and then what happens after." Hilary is driving behind a car where the driver gets spooked by a deer in his headlights and plunges off the road down a steep embankment. By the time Hilary staggers down the embankment the elderly man is dead. But it was the satchel on the passenger seat that was the mistake - it contained $500,000. On seeing the contents Hilary throws the satchel into the bushes......

Hilary agonises over the satchel - she is in desperate financial circumstances after a marriage breakdown without financial support, a pending mortgage default and huge school bills to educate her severely autistic child. Eventually she succumbs to temptation and retrieves the satchel. Of course that amount of cash couldn't come from honest sources. Other people want to find the money and they leave violent trail behind them in their search.

I have enjoyed Gross's Ty Hauck series but found this standalone thriller to be pretty ordinary without any great character development. The book read like the author had a number of plot ideas, mixed them up together and they came out the end in a bit of a mangled mess.

29 May 2015

Michael Dobbs: House of Cards

Unashamedly wicked and funny political fiction
Many of you will have seen the very popular TV series for "House of Cards", the UK one starring Ian Richardson, and currently the adaption to a US environment starring Kevin Spacey. This book is what started it all and introduces the delightfully wicked and corrupt Frances Urquhart who sets out to destroy his Prime Minister. Urquhart's character and approach is cleverly described in the initials chosen by author Michael Dobbs - FU or more explicitly "Eff You"!

Frances Urquhart is a long-standing member of the UK House of Commons and has reached his peak as Chief Whip in a Conservative government with a huge majority. His Prime Minister, Henry Collingridge, has lost his eye on the ball and is about to lose most of that majority. To keep the ball moving Urquhart suggests a fundamental Cabinet reshuffle to the PM but the Party Secretary gets in first and kills the proposal and any hopes that FU would get the Cabinet post he so wanted.

FU immediately starts a plot to destroy the Prime Minister by any means possible. In his role as Chief Whip, FU has saved the intimate details of most key members and Cabinet Ministers which he uses to start the process of the PM's downfall. He also uses Collingridge's alcoholic brother Charles to bring the PM into an untenable position.

A young and ambitious female journalist, Mattie Storin, starts to find out the real story behind what is happening but she doesn't connect what is going on to Urquhart because of a power driven attraction despite their age difference.

The book is peppered with wonderful opening Chapter quotes:

"Those who climb the tallest trees must accept the consequence that it is likely to expose their vulnerable parts."
"The nature of ambition is that it requires casualties."
"Politics requires sacrifice. The sacrifice of others of course."

This is wonderful and extremely amusing "dark tale of greed, corruption and unquentionable ambition" about one of the most memorable and unashamedly wicked characters in political fiction. It was written by an author at the top of his form who had extensive inside knowledge of Downing Street having been a special advisor to Margaret Thatcher and several other Conservative Prime Ministers. Dobbs is now a Life Peer - Baron Dobbs.

Even if you have seen one or both of the wonderful TV series I strongly recommend that you go back to where it started and revel in the wicked world of Frances Urquhart. There are 2 more books in the series "To play the King" and "The Final Cut" which I look forward to reading.

18 May 2015

Alafair Burke:All Day and a Night

Another excellent Ellie Hatcher police thriller
Alafair Burke has written another first class police crime thriller in the Ellie Hatcher series which shows that she is at the top of her class for this genre. This time she has created a first rate psychological thriller about serial killings and the possible conviction of an innocent man.

In prison parlance "All Day" relates to a life term and "All Day and a Night" is a life sentence without parole. Anthony Amaro was given the latter sentence eighteen years ago for a single murder and barely avoided death row as he was suspected of killing a further five women. An anonymous letter is sent to the DA's office claiming that Amaro is innocent because a killer with the same signature (which was never made public) is still at large. Psychologist Helen Brunswick was shot and killed recently and her death had the serial killer's signature - her limbs were broken after death.

Ellie Hatcher and her police partner, JJ Rogan, are asked by Max Donovan, a Deputy Attorney General, to take a fresh look at the cases. Max has selected them as the best detectives available to track down this cold case - what makes this different and possibly difficult is that Max is Ellie's live-in boyfriend. The case is made even more difficult when a grandstanding defense attorney, Linda Moreland, applies for Amaro's release on the basis of the new evidence. It is made even more unusual because Linda has just hired Carrie Blank, an up-and-coming lawyer, who is the step-sister of the woman for whose murder Amaro was convicted.

Alafair Burke then takes us on a complex ride around the cold-case murders, the case for Amaro's release, and the new murder. They are led back to Carrie's old hometown, the local police force and especially a gung-ho but very successful police sergeant (now retired) who extracted Amaro's confession. This is sharp and gripping stuff as Burke weaves the plot around and about, creates new leads (and some diversions) and uncovers old ones against a background of lies, deceit and danger and violence that stalks the major players.

This is a great police thriller that delivers the goods skillfully without going outside the bounds of believability that is the signature of so many top authors of the genre these days. While it could help to have read some of the previous four books in the series it can easily be read standalone as the back-story of Ellie's personal history and life is really only peripheral to your enjoyment of the book.

I strongly recommend this book as one of the best of the current genre of US police thrillers written by an author at the top of her form. Highly recommended.

Pamela Hart: The Soldier's Wife

Excellent emotional story about the impacts of WWI

The Soldier's Wife is Ruby, left behind in Australia when her new husband Jimmy goes off to war. Ruby moves from the bush to Sydney and finds work while she waits for Jimmy to return from Gallipoli. The story is also about Jimmy's return and how the couple cope with their love after his stressful experiences at the battlefront.

This is not only a story about war, it is also a story about the struggle of a recently married couple to keep their love and face the future after the war. Hart's descriptions of Sydney and the ways and social structure at that time makes the story even more vivid.

I have read several good books recently based on WWI but this one was outstanding.  The book was so absorbing and readable that I would give it 6 stars if I could. Very highly recommended.

This review was posted by MonicaD.

John Lescroart: The Fall

Who pushed her?
While I am a fan of legal crime fiction, somehow I have missed reading any books in the Dismas Hardy series by John Lescroart. This is #16 in the series and the author tries very hard to keep this long-running series alive by bringing in Hardy's beloved adopted daughter Rebecca ("The Beck" to her family and friends) as a defense attorney with her first homicide case.

Anlya Paulson, a 17 year old African-American girl living in a group foster home falls to her death from a bridge over a freeway in San Francisco. Because of many recent failures, the SFO police are under extreme pressure to solve homicides of African-Americans. When they find evidence that may point to a white volunteer worker with troubled kids having an affair with the girl, a witness sees them arguing a couple of hours before her death, and a homeless man identifies the suspect, the detectives are sure that they have the correct suspect. But are the police acting too fast to solve the case?

Greg Treadway is a court appointed special advocate to Anlya's twin brother, also in foster care. Rebecca meets Greg Treadway in her father's bar and gets drawn into the case when Greg is interviewed by homicide police and eventually accused of the homicide there is evidence that he had been having an affair with the dead girl. Greg pleads his innocence on all counts and engages Rebecca to defend him.

Lescroart then leads us through an interesting baptism of "The Beck" as a promising defense lawyer. Always in the background Dismas it around to help her and point her in the right direction. It soon becomes clear that the police have rushed into the case as Rebecca finds out things that they haven't covered.

This was classic defence attorney crime fiction using a formula that new evidence is found during the trial to lead to an exciting conclusion. In this case there are twists in the tail that unfortunately were pretty evident from very early on.

While I generally enjoyed the book I thought that the author might be trying too hard to think up something different to spice up a long running series.

Adrian McKinty: The Sun is God

An unusual but gripping story by Adrian McKinty
I normally expect Adrian McKinty's stories to be thrillers set in Northern Ireland and was surprised to find that this story was set in German New Guinea, near modern-day Rabaul, in the early 1900's. It featured a strange cult group of mostly German nudist sun worshipers. To make it even stranger they only ate coconuts and bananas (because they grew at the top of trees so were closer to the sun) and sunbathed their days away in a stupor after drinking a cocktail of coconut milk and powdered heroin at breakfast.

Will Prior, a former British military policeman, has retired to German New Guinea after a traumatic incident keeping control of a South African concentration camp. His new found tranquility is disturbed when the German authorities recruit him to investigate the death of one of the cult members, Max Lutzow, on the remote island of Kabakon. The cult members insist that he died from malaria but an autopsy suggests that the death was from other causes.

Prior, a German officer and a middle-aged single Englishwoman, visit the island to investigate. They are immediately thrust into the middle of the cult's day-to-day life and diet (including the coconut cocktail), meeting with constant denials of any wrongdoing in Lutzow's death. Eventually when Prior starts to flush out the truth things get pretty tense.

This was the first audio book that I have listened to and I enjoyed the experience during my morning walks and car journeys.  If I had read the book I think that I might have given up because it was not what I expected from McKinty. The narrator, Gerald Doyle, did a great job in turning what could have been a fairly unexciting story into something pretty absorbing.

15 May 2015

Steve Martini: The Enemy Inside

A legal thriller with political and financial conspiracies

Steve Martini has pulled out all stops to make this legal thriller #13 in the Paul Madriani series into a comprehensive legal thriller with a background of  political and financial conspiracies, woven around an up-to-the-moment environment of electronic manipulation.

Alex Ives goes to a party and wakes up in his car 50 miles away after a fatal high speed crash. He has no recollection of leaving the party and his blood alcohol level is minor. The driver of the other car who was incinerated after the crash is Olinda Serna a Washington lawyer with powerful friends and financial connections.

When Alex is accused of homicide he asks Madriani for help in defending him in court. It is soon clear to Madriani that the crash may been staged and that Alex is in danger because he should have also been killed in the crash. He sets out to uncover everything he can about Serna and her clients - a search that leads to a path of political and financial corruption, both in Washington and overseas, and shadowy people with worldwide connections who will murder to maintain their power.

This is not your run-of-the-mill legal thriller - it has a bit of everything to keep you on the edge of your seat. A lot of what you read is beyond the bounds of believability but is very entertaining and if you like this kind of escapism you will enjoy this book. This is another case where a best-selling author has gone to great lengths with a new plot to keep a long running series alive. I see seeds of international espionage and powerplay in the plot that suggest that this is only the beginning of a longer story and despite his successes Paul Madriani and his small legal firm will continue to be accidentally involved in things beyond their control.

My thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for an advance copy of this book for review.

10 May 2015

Allison Leotta: A Good Killing

Good story, flawed back-story
I have enjoyed all of Allison Leotta's previous legal thrillers featuring Anna Curtis. I also enjoyed this one where Anna Curtis swaps role from prosecutor to defense attorney to help her sister. However, even for those who have read previous books in the series, some parts were hard to comprehend because of  insufficient information about Anna's failed romance.

After calling off her wedding at the last moment (see below for more) Anna Curtis, an Assistant Attorney General in DC, heads home to answer a desperate call from her sister Jody. The tables are turned when Anna becomes a defence counsel to help her sister who has been arrested for the murder of the local high school sports coach. Anna soon finds that the other side of the fence is more difficult, especially when  she cannot find the truth.

The case slowly develops as Anna finds out that the coach has an unpublished history of sex offenses with teenage girls. Anna's case is made harder because the coach was a local hero and the local community turn against her.

Throughout the book there are references to Anna's former fiancé Jack who keeps saying that he still loves her and wants to resume their relationship. This is hard to believe because there are signs that Jack is now living with another woman. Leotta doesn't tell the reader the reason why Anna walked away. I had to go back to "Speak of the Devil" to remind myself that Jack's wife had come back from being believed dead and had moved back in with Jack and their child. A small amount of clarification of this back-story would have easily given the reader some understanding of what had happened. I read an early Advance Reading Copy in e-book format so I hope that last minute editing fixed up this flaw.

Allison Leotta is an excellent author of legal thrillers and this was a good one, even though my rating was affected by the flawed back-story. I would recommend that you read earlier books in the series before reading this one.

06 May 2015

Stuart MacBride: Broken Skin (Logan McRae, Book 3)

Another top "Scottish Noir" Crime Thriller
Once again Stuart MacBride has produced a top "Scottish Noir" crime thriller featuring DS Logan McRae and his whacky police colleagues in Aberdeen. While Aberdeen is the star location for most of the action it shines as a place that I would like to avoid, both in climate and lifestyle.

McRae is caught up in the investigation of a myriad of difficult and violent cases, mostly with a violent sexual background. A bloody body is found with terrible wounds and investigations suggest that a local BDSM bondage group may know something about it. A serial rapist is menacing and torturing girls in both Aberdeen and Dundee. An attack on Logan's girl-friend PC Jackie ‘Ball Breaker’ Watson who was out along late acting as bait suggests that it may be Aberdeen Football Club’s star player - but he has an alibi for each time the rapist strikes. Jackie is not convinced and she is hell-bent on proving that he is the rapist. On top of all of this an 8 year old boy runs away after he stabs and kills an old man and puts a policewoman into intensive care with knife wounds.

This all means lots of overtime for McRae, but lots of problems in dealing with his superiors, overweight and angry DI Inch and foul mouthed crazy lesbian DI Steel. All of this is light and very amusing relief from trying to find murderers and a rapist. A warning - there are some parts of the book with very vivid descriptions of violence and sex that are not for the faint hearted.

There is one amusing dig at MacBride's biggest competitor in the field of "Scottish Noir", Ian Rankin. When the local BDSM group plan their activities they meet in an upstairs room of a local pub under the pretext of  discussing books by Ian Rankin.

You probably need to read earlier books in the series to really appreciate the characters and the setting. McRae is a bit of an enigmatic character to me, a good diligent policeman who deserves better from his job and from his bosses. All in all another very realistic but amusing police procedural which is well recommended. I plan to keep on reading more books in this addictive series.