Friday, November 30, 2012

Cold City by F. Paul Wilson

Cold City is the start of a new trilogy about F. Paul Wilson's incredibly successful character, Repairman Jack.  Wilson has written fifteen novels about Jack, and three about his childhood.  This novel picks up on Jack as a young man, out in the world deciding how to live his life.

Jack has cut ties with his past.  He has dropped out of college, become invisible to his former friends and isn't speaking with his family.  He feels at odds with himself and the world, a world where someone's unfeeling act deprived his mother of his life.  Now he has to make his way in the world.  He starts with a deadend job and when that falls through, is desperate enough to take a job that skirts legality.  A friend of a friend is looking for a driver to bring cigarettes from North Carolina to New York, where there is a major profit for counterfeit goods.

The money is good but Jack isn't sure this is what he wants to do.  He is right to be unsure; before he knows it he is mixed up with Muslim terrorists and a child sex slave ring.  In addition, his neighborhood bar is about to go under due to a loan shark with Mafia ties.  When Jack dives into the underworld, he gets a full dose.  Jack negotiates his way, trying to make moral decisions and help those who are deserving. 

Fans of Repairman Jack will welcome this book.  It is interesting to read this prequel and see how Jack's decisions as a young man have made him into the character so widely known.  Wilson is a master at unfolding a plot that makes the implausible seem plausible and bringing the reader into the moral compasses of his character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Against all odds, Detective Carl Morck of the Copenhagen Police Department, has made a success of Department Q. When he returned from sick leave a year ago, the force wasn’t sure what to do with him. He was judged fit to return to service but having your partner killed in front of you and your oldest friend completely paralyzed didn’t leave the administration brimming with confidence about Monck’s abilities to work. A brilliant bureaucratic idea created Department Q for Morck. He was assigned to the basement, there to work on the coldest of cold cases and leave the administration alone. Against all odds, Morck and his Syrian assistant, a janitor named Hafez Assad, solved one of the most mysterious cold cases in the department’s history. Now, Morck is untouchable with all the public praise his work has garnered.

He is so successful that he returns from his summer vacation to find that his basement empire has been enlarged with the addition of Rose Knudsen. Her dream was to be a policewoman, but failing the driving test meant that couldn’t happen. She has now been assigned to Morck to help him and he is dismayed by the realization that just sitting and doing nothing is getting more problematic as he gets more publicity and assistants. Against his inclination, he starts another case.

The new case is a strange one. Two students, brother and sister, were killed twenty years ago. The suspects were a group of boarding students from a prestigious academy. There was no real evidence and the case was unsolved for nine years. Suddenly, after almost a decade, one of the group had come in and confessed and was currently serving time. The others in the group went their separate ways, and used their wealth and influence to become leaders in Danish businesses. Did the man in jail really commit the crime by himself as he claimed or did the group buy him off? Who put the case on Carl’s desk and why has it surfaced again after all these years? And where is the absent one, Kimmie? Kimmie was the only female in the group but opposed to the success of the men, has spent years living on the streets as a homeless vagrant. What drove Kimmie to the streets and where is she now? Was the student murder the group’s only crime or just the tip of the iceberg?

Readers who enjoyed Adler-Olsen’s first book, The Keeper Of Lost Causes, will be glad to visit again with Monck. Monck’s gritty determination to follow through and his ability to solve cases almost against his will are intriguing. The plot of the case is complicated and intricately connected as Monck attempts to determine why such successful men fear no one but the absent one. This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Untamed by Sara Humphreys

Layla has always known that she was a hybrid.  Born of a human mother and an Amoveo father, she has never felt that she belonged to either camp.  Raised by a loving foster mother with two other hybrid children, she returns to the homestead when she encounters a stalker in her dreams.  The stalker is William, and he is destined to become her mate, or at least that's what the Amoveo world would have her believe.

But Layla isn't sure she wants to agree.  When William follows her to the farm, she realises that she has a powerful attraction to him, but can't see herself meekly agreeing with some foreordained mate for life.  Still, as the days go by, her attraction to William just increases and he makes it clear that he is totally in love with her.  He is there to support her always, and helps her learn more about her Amoveo heritage.  She comes from the Cheetah clan while William is from the Falcon clan.  He teaches her how to access her Amoveo powers, and she is more torn each day.  Will she or won't she take the plunge to merge her life with William's?

Sara Humpreys has an interesting premise in her shapeshifter characters.  Untamed is the third book in the Amoveo Legend series and readers interested in paranormal romance will be entranced with the characters and the love story.  The love story is very physical at times and the reader will enjoy learning about the Amoveo clans and their conflicts.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy the paranormal genre.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson and others

In the 13th century, Europe was at a crossroads.  The Mongol hordes had captured much of the existing world and was now poised to attack Europe.  Who could stand in the way of such a powerful army?  Led by Onghwe Khan, grandson of Genghis, there seemed no way to avoid the brutality and utter devastation such an invasion would bring. 

Neal Stephenson and his co-writers have imagined this world and tell readers the story of the struggle to retain Europe.  Ancient manuscripts were given to the famous nineteenth century explorer, Richard Burton.  He started translating them but died before he could finish.  These manuscripts were found recently in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy.  The Mongoliad series is based on these manuscripts.  Stephenson is joined by some of the finest names in fantasy and swordsmanship.  They include Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBimingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey and Cooper Moo. 

One of the groups desperately determined to stop the Khan was a group of knights of the Skjaldbraedur Shield-Brethren.  Led by Feronantus and composed of warriors from many lands, they decide on a plan that they hoped would be surprising enough to succeed.  They determined to ride forth in a small group and assassinate Onghwe.  If they could succeed, all the various branches of the Mongols would return home to determine who the next Khan would be.  Although the possibility of success was extremely low, a group of knights, led by a woman named Cnan, started on their journey to find and kill the Khan.

This is the first book in the Mongoliad Series.  The book is told in alternating chapters between the stories of the knights and the Mongol court, specifically a young warrior named Gansukh and the Chinese slave, Lian, who educates him in the ways of the Khan's court.  It is rich in historical fact and gives a compelling look at the devastation of the Mongol horde and its conquering tactics.  This book is recommended for readers who love swordsmanship, ancient rites, and global history. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Heart Broke In by James Meek

James Meek's novels are intricately plotted characterizations of people's lives intertwining and the societies they live in. His last novel, The People's Act Of Love, was about an isolated Christian sect in Siberia. This novel has been moved to the present, and outlines the lives of scientists in London as they attempt to balance work and love.

There is Harry, a famous cancer researcher, now ironically dying of cancer himself. Alex is his nephew, and will inherit the foundation Harry established. He also works with cancer and ways to cure it, but cannot cure his uncle. He is in love with Bec, the sister of his longtime friend, Ritchie. Bec works on malaria, and has found a parasite that provides protection; she has injected herself with the parasite to prove it is harmless. Her brother, Ritchie, is the exception to the scientists. He is a former rock star, now the host of a TV show that discovers and showcases teenage talent. The problem is that Ritchie, although in what he would call a happy marriage, can't resist sampling the teenage talent himself. Then there is Val. The editor of a prestigious newspaper, he was engaged to Bec and bears a grudge against the family since she broke it off.

Meek has a wonderful time showing the myriad ways this cast of characters interacts and relates to each other and their work. Work and science is a major theme. Another theme is love, how we find and sustain it. The desire to have children and the relationship to family is highlighted. The theme of how does one live an honorable life is key.   Meek is at his best here, and The Heart Broke In will make many of the Year's Best lists. It is highly recommended to readers interested in how love, family and the world work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Headstone by Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor is not your average P.I. Forced from the Garda, he has since spent years back in his native Galway, sunk in alcoholism, drugs and depression. Such is life with losses, and Jack has had more losses than his share. Fiercely loyal to his few friends, and unexpectedly kind to those suffering, he is also capable of enormous rage and violence. Taylor is the man you go to when something has to be done, and the law just doesn’t seem adequate to the task.

Galway is suffering from a new kind of criminal. The weak and helpless; a boy with Down’s Syndrome, a homeless man, an old retired priest, are being targeted and savagely murdered on the streets. The murderers seem to be a new breed of mindless violence; young people who have everything to live for and no desire to do anything more than destroy all around them. The victims are sent miniature headstones, and Jack is an early recipient. When the gang attacks him, they mark him for life but leave him alive to watch as they carry out their plans. Finding and stopping the gang is a race against time for Jack and his friends.
Bruen is an amazing writer, and those readers who have not discovered him have a rare treat in store. Taylor is an anti-hero, but one that the reader cannot help but cheer for. To offset his violent ways, he is also a reader, a music and art appreciator and his unsparing assessment of himself is full of clarity. When one sees one’s faults but still rises to the occasion when something needs to be done, there is something heroic about them. The prose is short, choppy at times, full of insistence that the story move onward, ever onward to a stunning conclusion. Headstone is one of a series of Jack Taylor novels, and those new to this author will close the last page and rush out to find the others. This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red Leaves And The Living Token by Benjamin Burrell

Emret, thirteen, is terminally ill.  Confined to a wheelchair and in the hospital for what will be his final care, he is hardly the archetype of a superhero.  His father, Raj, is desperate for a cure and willing for the doctors to try their best.  Emret's nurse, Moslin, has been sent away.  Raj believes she is not good for Emret as she fills his head with visions of the old stories, of magic and visions and things far beyond the ken of men.

Then the impossible happens.  Raj arrives at the hospital room to find Emret gone along with Moslin.  She has taken him from the hospital in an attempt to find the miraculous cure they believe awaits them in the land of the Red Leaves.  Of course, the Red Leaves are just a fairy tale....or are they?

Raj immediately starts his journey to find them.  Although he doesn't believe in magic, he is having dreams that seem like prophecies.  The dreams seem tied to a strange stone figurine he found right before discovering Emret's disappearance.  He doesn't know what the purpose of this figurine is, but it becomes clear that three different tribes of creatures are determined to take it from him for their own purposes.  Can Raj find Emret and Moslin?  Can Emret's belief in magic find a cure for his illness?

Ben Burrell has written an engaging first book in a new fantasy series.  The path ahead is unclear at times but more and more of the storyline becomes clear as Raj and Emret are reunited in the land where the Token and the Red Leaves exist.  There are three books planned for this series.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen

Detective Maria Kallio is facing her first murder investigation.  Only twenty-three, she is not sure yet what she wants from a career.  She started as a police officer, got bored and went to study law, then was unsure about that path and has taken a six-month job as a substitute officer when another member of the force goes out on medical leave.  Being young and a woman in a male-dominated workplace is not easy; being brought in as a lead detective makes her even less popular.

She is worried when she is assigned to a murder case.  Her concerns deepen when she realises who the victim was. Tommi Peltonen was a golden boy.  Handsome and outgoing, he always was the leader in any group, and the group he was most often with was a formal chorus at his university.  Although he had already graduated, he remained in the group and they were thrilled to have him stay.  Maria had been on the fringes of this group in her university days; one of her roommates had been in the chorus and she socialized with the group.  She had known Tommi.  She tries to beg off, but there is no one else to take the case.

At first glance, it appears that Tommi's death may have been an accident.  The chorus had gone with him to his parent's summer house, where they could rehearse for an upcoming job.  Tommi is found floating in the water.  At first it appeared he may have drowned, but further investigation reveals that he was hit on the head with an axe before entering the water. 

All the suspects are right there, and all are known to Maria.  She must overcome her hesitation to figure who in this tight-knit group would have killed their leader.  As she investigates Tommi's life, surprising facts start to emerge that form motives for several of the group.  Can Maria bring the case to a successful conclusion?

This book is recommended for mystery readers.  This is the first in Leena Lehtolainen's Maria Kallio series; a series that has been adapted as a series on Finnish television.  American readers will be interested in reading how criminal investigation varies in other countries.  The whole ambiance of the culture and how crime is viewed is different from the American police culture and it is fascinating to see another way of working through a criminal investigation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Galore by Michael Crummey

Life is difficult in the small fishing settlement of Paradise Deep in Newfoundland.  The people are tied to the sea, suffering if the catch isn't good and making it through the winter with the help of their families and friends.  When a whale is beached, it is a major event, and the entire town turns out to butcher it and save the meat to make it through the long cold days ahead.  The whale is miraculous enough but no one expects what is found in its stomach.  Hacked open, out rolls an albino man, somehow alive, although barely so. 

In the days that follow, he regains his health, but is a mute.  The townsfolk name him Judah, a variation on the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale; life is so hard there that the only Bible is a partial one rescued from a wreck, leaving the people to create their own tales to fill in the blanks.

There are two main families in Paradise Deep.  The Sellers are the merchants of the town, rich and powerful; their patriarch named King-Me Sellers.  The Devines are the guardians of the town's folklore and superstition; some would say its magic.  The family is headed by Devine's Widow, often called a witch but also the person everyone turned to for cures and predictions of what would come next.  The two families are caught in a decades-old feud. 

Sellers wants to get rid of Judah.  Devine's Widow binds him to the settlement and her family.  His presence adds more fuel to the fire of the feud.  The reader is swept into the lives of these people for generations as they fight to survive.  We see the marriages, the separations, the religion that binds folks, the stirring of a union to fight the rich and powerful.  Judah remains an enigmatic figure in the lives of both families as they fight and love over the years.

This book is highly recommended for readers interested in history, in folklore, in how societies grow and survive.  The characters are finely drawn, each one in the myriad of folk given their own personalities that distinguish them.  There is an undercurrent of magical realism, but the miraculous things that occur arise out of the beliefs of the townspeople.  Galore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction.  Readers who plunge into this novel will emerge stunned and glad for the experience.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In The Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Fabio Geda is an Italian novelist who works with children in trouble.  In The Sea There Are Crocodiles is his book detailing the memoir of Enaiatollah Akbari, an Afhganistian young man who, after years of being on his own and facing obstacles many people never encounter, became an immigrant in Italy.

When Enaiatollah was about ten (he is not sure of his birthday or exact age), his mother took him on a trip to Pakistan.  After a few days he awoke one morning to find her gone.  She had gone back home, leaving him to make his way in a foreign land where he didn't speak the language or have anyone to look out for him.  He spent a year in Pakistan, working wherever he could find a job and sleeping anywhere he could. 

The next three years Enaiatollah spent in Iran.  There he worked construction.  The work was brutal and the hours long.  Periodically, the police raided the sites and sent all the illegal workers back to their countries.  The workers had to pay the costs of this repatriation, so it was difficult to save any money.  Enaiatillah made friends there among the other workers, but one lesson he learned early was not to get attached to anyone else.  After three years, he tired of the constant stress and work and decided to go with a group of friends to Turkey.

This was by far the most difficult journey he undertook.  What he was told was a three day walk turned into almost four weeks climbing into the mountains and fighting the cold and hunger.  At the end of that journey, was a three day trip stuffed into a false bottom in a truck. 

After time spent in Turkey, he and four acquaintances struck out for Greece.  They had to row a dinghy across the ocean between the two countries; five boys who had never seen the ocean, who had never rowed a bow or known how to swim.  Eventually, Enaiatollah left Greece in a ship container, bound for who knew where.  He ended up in Italy and was lucky enough to find people there who helped him and a government that granted him asylum. 

Readers will not be able to stop reading this mesmerizing tale of this young boy's struggles and travels.  Parents will be heartbroken to think of a life so barren that the best one can do for your child is to abandon him in a foreign country with no way to monitor his safety or even his survival.  All you can give him is a chance. Enaiatollah's courage is admirable, but there are repercussions.  The story is told in a very flat affect and it is obvious that he has walled off his emotions in order to survive the brutal life he was handed.  This book is recommended for all readers; a compelling and ultimately satisfying read.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Injustice For All by Robin Caroll

Remington has just survived a nightmare.  She was in the house, unknown, when assassins broke in and killed her godfather, a powerful federal judge.  Even worse, she can identify the killers and they are men she thought she could trust.  Now she realises that her only hope of survival is to run.  Luckily, her work as a forensic psychologist has prepared her to do this efficiently.

Three years later, Bella, as she is now known, has found some peace.  She has run hundreds of miles and reinvented herself.  She is living in a small rural town where she has found friends and contentment.  That is about to change.

Rafe is an FBI agent, newly transferred to another office.  As the new guy, he is given the task of trying to find some way forward on cold cases.  He hits on the judge's murder and as he reads through the case file, finds a clue that brings him to the little town where Bella now lives.  Even worse, his clue involves her best friend, the sheriff.  His interest in the case gets back to the killers who now know exactly where to go to finish the job of killing off the only witness to their crime.  Can Bella find a way to survive this new threat?

Robin Carroll has written an interesting mystery.  The pace is fast enough to keep the reader's interest, without being so breakneck that it is tiring to read.  The characters are portrayed realistically enough that a connection is made to them.  The resolution is satisfying while not feeling overly packaged.  Carroll has written eleven previous books and writes in the Christian fiction genre.  While this book is recommended for readers of that genre, any mystery reader will enjoy this one.