Over 550 book reviews with full author links

22 January 2016

Tom Clancy: Patriot Games (A Jack Ryan Novel, Book 1)

The start of the Jack Ryan saga
It's interesting to revisit a key bestseller that you first read over 30 years ago. This is the first in the Tom Clancy's long-running series about Jack Ryan, which has even been continued after Clancy's recent death via the pen of Mark Greaney.

Jack Ryan is visiting London on vacation with his eye surgeon wife Catherine and 4-year-old daughter Sally when they find themselves close to a terrorist attack by the Ulster Liberation Army on a Rolls Royce driving through St James Park. After the terrorists have blown up the front of the car with a grenade they start moving in firing machine guns, intent on capturing the people in the back of the car. In seconds, Ryan tackles one of the attackers and kills another but is seriously injured.  He didn't realise until later that the occupants of the car are the Prince and Princess of Wales and their infant son.

This fantasy opening makes Ryan and his family close friends to the Royal Family and the Queen gives him an honorary Knighthood for his bravery. While the captured Irish terrorist Sean Miller is given life imprisonment, with the help of the ULA he escapes when being moved to a high-security prison. Miller vows that he will eliminate Ryan and capture the Prince.

The rest of the book details Ryan's determination to find Miller and defeat the ULA and to do this he reluctantly accepts an invitation to work at the CIA. Miller pops up again in the US, targeting Catherine and Jack. Later on, he continues his vendetta against Ryan and the Prince with a stunning bloody gunfight at the end.

I enjoyed going back to the start of the Jack Ryan saga and to read Clancy when he was at the top of his form. Some aspects of the book are dated (for example, terrorism was considered to always have political motives) and technology is fairly primitive. My main reservation is that Clancy's writing style is pretty ponderous and detailed. In those days, we expected blockbuster novels to be 800 pages but now we would expect this kind of story to be a compelling 400-500 page-turner.

My other reservation is Clancy's inclusion of real people in the plot in fictitious situations, especially the Royal Family. He also has poor understanding of Royal protocols - calling the Duke of Edinburgh "My Lord" and the Prince "Your Highness".

Many of you will have seen the movie of the book starring Harrison Ford and Anne Archer. I suggest that you read the book because the finale when Ryan finally catches up with Miller is very different and shows Clancy's forethought in making Ryan the kind of character he becomes in later books.

As pointed out by several reviewers the conversion to an e-book has not been done well with no breaks between different sections of the action making some parts difficult to follow.

20 January 2016

Mark Gimenez: The Absence of Guilt (A. Scott Fenney Book 3)

Very contemporary terrorist/legal thriller
The FBI uncovers an ISIS plot to detonate a bomb that would kill thousands of spectators in the Cowboys Stadium in Dallas during the Super Bowl.  They arrest the apparent terrorists and the President goes on television and proclaims that the terrorists have been beaten.

Newly appointed US District Judge A. Scott Fenney is faced with a commitment hearing for the accused terrorists. Things are not straightforward as the FBI doesn't have any viable evidence of the plot, especially against a radical Muslim cleric Omar al Mustafa reputed to be their leader. Judge Fenney is asked to detain Mustafa and the followers arrested with him until after the Super Bowl which is three weeks away. If there is insufficient evidence Scott must set someone free who is probably the most dangerous man in Dallas.

Many of you who have read the previous books in the series will remember Scott as a young, ambitious and rich lawyer with a trophy wife who successfully defends a black drug addict prostitute on a murder charge. He loses his career, his wife and his riches and when the prostitute overdoses he adopts the prostitute's daughter Pajamae and brings her to live with his daughter Boo. Pajamae and Boo become close friends. They are similar in age, go to the same school and both dearly love A. Scott Fenney. The terrorist affair will affect both of them for the rest of their lives.

Scott is also scheduled to judge on the legal validity of Presidential executive orders that affect millions of illegal Mexican immigrants. This judgement is brought much closer to home when Scott becomes emotionally involved with a beautiful FBI agent with Mexican parents who is charged with protecting him during the terrorist case.

This is an action-packed legal thriller which will keep you on the edge of your seat to the very last moment. Mark Gimenez has taken on two very difficult and controversial topics - human rights in the struggle against terrorism and the legal status of millions of Mexican immigrants in the US. In doing so he highlights the different perception of the issues from a public and legal perspective.

Once again Gimenez has written an intelligent, sensitive and cleverly plotted action-packed legal thriller with plenty of twists and turns. A. Scott Fenney is one of Mark Gimenez' best characters - a man with a conscience which is not destined to bring him the greatest happiness.

18 January 2016

Adrian McKinty: Rain Dogs (Detective Sean Duffy)

Another locked door mystery during "The Troubles"
Adrian McKinty is a master storyteller of thrillers set in Northern Ireland. This book is #5 of his splendid fictional representations of  "The Troubles" in Northern Island in the 1980's through the eyes of Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, a Catholic policeman in the predominantly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Duffy is a first class detective whose character is flawed by what is happening around him. One day he will be chasing common criminals and the next day he will be heartbroken when he is co-opted for riot duty and faces mobs throwing bricks and petrol bombs. His car is never safe and he checks for a bomb every time he drives it.

This time, Duffy is faced with a locked-door mystery similar in many ways to one that he faced a couple of years back. A female English journalist reporting on a visit by a team of Scandinavian businessmen is found dead having fallen/jumped/been pushed from the top of Carrickfergus castle. At first sight, it looks like suicide but Duffy isn't satisfied. The puzzle is that the journalist entered the castle the previous evening and it had been locked tight during the night and there appears to be no way that any killer could have got away.

Then a seemingly disconnected disaster happens when a senior policeman is killed by a bomb hidden under his car. Duffy had great respect for him and grapples with trying to work out the reason for the bomb.

McKinty shows off his storytelling skills when he includes a couple of cameo appearances by Killian who in later life stars in a very different but similarly enthralling thriller FALLING GLASS. Killian is not your average Irish thug, he was brought up as a Parvee, the Irish equivalent of a gypsy, and despite his violent background is a thug with a heart.

RAIN DOGS is the latest in this compelling series set against authentic background of "The Troubles". All of this series are highly recommended to discerning readers of police thrillers.

15 January 2016

Sidney Sheldon: If Tomorrow Comes

To Catch a Thief
Beautiful but somewhat naive Tracy Whitney is set up for attempted murder and is given a 15 year sentence in an escape-proof penitentiary. Tracy soon shows her personal strengths against powerful and dangerous prisoners determined to take her over.

After a miraculous pardon Tracy is no longer naive and sets out to destroy the influential and powerful people who put her in jail. Using her beauty and native cunning by the middle of the book she quickly achieves her objectives. Then she is faced with the rest of her life being tarnished by her prison record, until she makes contact with someone highly recommended by her best friend and mentor from her prison cell.

Tracy then starts her second career as a jewel thief, mixing with the cream of society and only stealing from those that can afford the loss. She soon confronts Jeff Stevens, an irresistible rogue and con artist, who frequently beats her in taking from the same targets. There are shades of "To Catch a Thief" in the plot.

This is classic Sidney Sheldon with fast moving page-turning action and a strong-willed heroine. Sheldon is quoted as saying "I try to construct them so when the reader gets to the end of it, he or she has to read just one more chapter. It's the technique of the old Saturday afternoon serial: leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter."

The book is over 30 years old but the storyline and writing are not dated. Highly recommended for someone who likes books about strong willed females facing impossible odds.