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Playing With Fire (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-10-05)
In a change in literary direction Tess Gerritsen has written an enchanting historical novel.
The story is wrapped with the kind of characters who are interesting, and have a tale to tell, one that the reader will enjoy.
Julia Ansdell is a beautiful woman, she is an accomplished musician and purchases a piece of music at an antique store in Rome.
While playing the music at her home, there is an incident between her 3 year old daughter and the family cat. This puts a scare in Julia and sets the tone for the remainder of the story.
Thereafter, the story is told in two parts, in current time and around WWII in Italy.
In Italy there is a family of musicians with a love of music, and of Italy. There is a competition upcoming and they are preparing for it, but are concerned if they will be allowed to perform due to questions about their heritage.
Julia feels drawn to the music of the composer. She begins investigating the origin of the music and the family.
We follow the Brownshirts and the family encounters with them and a particular Colonel who has a private agenda.
Gerritsen writes with an intimate flourish as if revealing parts of her own family.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Playing With Fire”.)

Cypress Trap, The (2015) [novella]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-24)
As I've been going through some medical procedures, I've been looking for a book to get my mine off health and bury myself (figuratively) in a good novel.

In this well written, gripping story, a wife and husband are having difficulty with their marriage. He is about to go on a fishing trip and she persuades him to go with her. What she didn't know is that he had already asked to bring one of his buddies, so there is a threesome.

The story moves right along and something about the husband's past catches up with him. The party is crashed by a group of murderous teenagers who claim that Owen, the husband, has something of theirs and want it back.

There is no help to be found and things get dict fast.

Not to give away plot but just imagine a Florida waterway where an innocent party of people who have gone fishing is stalked.

The characters are well described and find themselves in a dire predicament. The reader becomes engrossed and will have difficulty putting down the book.


(This review refers to the expression titled “Cypress Trap, The”.)

Taking Lives (1999) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-21)
Taking Lives" by Michael Pye is a complex story of a serial killer who murders people and then assumes their identity.

The story begins slowly as Martin Arkenhout kills his first victim, finds it's an easy thing and gives him an appetite for murder..

John Costa is the story's narrator. He's a keeper at a museum and is searching for a Professor John Heart.concerning some missing papers. By the time this portion of the story gets under way, John Heart has become Martin Arkenhout's victim and Arkenhout has taken over Hart's identity. Arkenhout has had a narrow escape from one of his false identities and thinks that pretending to be a professor would be easy.

As a museum keeper, what was so important about why he was searching for Heart wasn't very well explained. I would have enjoyed knowing what was so important and why it was stolen. I've enjoyed the novels of Preston & Child and their descriptions of the goings on at the New York Museum of Natural Art.

The reader does get to know about John Costa while dealing with Costa's father's demise. The story takes the reader to many places and much is set in Portugal which is interesting.

Another point I was interested in is that the book has been made into a movie, starring Ethan Hawke; Angelina Jolie, Kiefer Sutherland and Gina Rowland. Imagining those stars acting out their roles in the movie added a fun element to my reading experience. I also feel that the victims of the killer could have been described more thoroughly so the reader might come to be interested or sympathetic to them.

There were times when I was reading the story and didn't know if the character was one of the serial killer's victim or the actual character.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Taking Lives”.)

Victim, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-19)
Anton Mackey is a man on a path to success. He has a lovely wife and child and he has a promising career in the legal industry. But something occurred in his past and a person is attempting to bring his past into light in a manner that will change his life forever.

Eric Matheny ensnares his readers in an intricate web of mystery that will have the reader turning the pages anxiously to see if Anton is innocent.

Matheny does a diligent job in defending other people accused of crimes and it is difficult to imagine that he did what a woman is accusing him of doing.

Mackey is a character who could be taken from one of John Girsham's excellent novels. He stands out in the world of those attempting to bring justice into a world packed with people who have been wronged.

Overall, the book is a fast paced read and recommended. It's a thrill to find a new author who stands out and Eric Matheny is an author with a bright future.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Victim, The”.)

Finders Keepers: A Novel (0) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-15)
"Finders Keepers" is the second book in a planned trilogy Stephen King began with "Mr Mercedes"

John Rothstein is a famous writer who has created the character Jimmy Gold. John hasn't written anything in a long time and lives a secluded life in rural New England.

Morris Bellamy is a deranged fan of Rothstein's character, Jimmy Gold. Bellamy feels that Rothstein let his fans down when he had Jimmy Gold sell out to the adverting industry.

We learn that Bellamy is going to be released from prison after 35 years for the rape of a woman. The woman had attended his parole hearing for years and helped convince officials to leave him in prison.

Prior to his imprisonment, Bellamy and two of his goons robbed Rothstein and stole a large amount of money and number of his handwritten, unpublished manuscripts. Then Bellamy hid the money stolen and the manuscripts. The story to this point reminded me of the reclusive J.D. Salinger and a premise if someone had robbed him and stolen his unpublished manuscripts.

During the time Bellamy was in jail, one of the victims of Mr. Mercedes is having a hard time, being forced with his family to a home in a poorer area and living a life of constant struggle. His son, Pete, happens to stumble on the hidden notebooks and cash and gradually diminishes the money, sending in anonymously to his parents. He hopes to easy his parents life and have a happier home with his sister.

As Pete continues his schooling, he is interested in English literature and studies the works of Rothstein. The money has run out and he's told he wouldn't qualify for a grant so he gets the manuscripts out and begins dealing with an rare book dealer to sell the manuscripts.

The story moves swiftly as, Pete is dealing with the book store owner, Bellamy is out of jail and is looking for the money and manuscripts, while Pete's sister, Tina, mentions to a friend that Pete might be in trouble, Bill Hodges, Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney who works as Hodges secretary tries to find Pete before Bellamy reaches him.

The characters are well drawn so we know what motivates them. Hodges and Pete are the kind of character who the reader hopes for their success and worries about their failure. Well done, a fast and suspense filled read.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Finders Keepers”.)

Radiant Angel (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-15)
John Corey is with the Diplomatic Surveillance Group as a kind of break after his harrowing experiences in Yemen.
He's monitoring the activities of Col. Vasily Petrov who is with the Russian U.N. Mission. As Corey and his team of anti-terrorists follow Petrov and a group of Russians to a party thrown by a wealthy Russian in Southampton, Long Island, Petrov disappears.
Corey has the feeling that there is something up and set out to find Petrov and discover what he's up to.
The reader learns that Petrov is an ego maniac and his plot is to strike a major blow against New York and America. Not to reveal plot, the item he's shipping is a bomb and he uses a luxury yacht to get the bomb to New York.
There is a race to save New York and as the second tick by, suspense mounts which culminates in a chilling confrontation.
What was of particular interest to me is that the last book I've read was "Finders Keepers" by Stephen King. The protagonist of that book is Bill Hodges who was in action in the "Mr. Mercedes" murder. Comparing Hodges to John Corey, I found that King provided more background so the reader learned more of the antagonist's motivation and that of Hodges. Both heroes were in a life or death situation but there was more to lose in 'Radiant Angel."
Stephen King and Nelson DeMille are tow of our best mystery writers. There is a bit more edge-of-seat action in "Finders Keepers" but both books are excellent stories, the books have realistic action scenes and excellent dialogue with a damsel in distress.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Radiant Angel”.)

Just and the Unjust, The (1942) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-09-11)
The effect of a murder trial on small town life. We not only read of what is going on in the trial, but after the courtroom action, we read of the attorney's lives, the background on the family of the accused and how justice is arrived at.
During the trial, we visit the history of a woman who became a widow of a successful business man. Then an attorney befriended her but after her marriage to him, he cleaned out the bank accounts and disappeared from town. It is very traumatic to the Judge's family who took the woman and her family in to live with them.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Just and the Unjust, The”.)

Blood On Snow (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-28)
2 1/2 stars moving up to three for the author's attempt in writing a different type of novel.

Perhaps it's because I've been diagnosed with a serious health issue but I've found that I just don't want to spend time with a story or characters that I don't particularly care for.

Although I've enjoyed Jo Nesbo's writing in the past and shared good comments about his novel "The Son," with my book club, "Blood on Snow" left me cold. (Get it?)

Olav is an extremely talented fixer for one of Oslo's most powerful crime bosses. He does his job until his boss, Daniel Hoffman, assignes Olav to kill his "Hoffman's) wife.

Olav shows empathy for the people he is asked to "fix." He tells the reader that there are certain assignments he just doesn't accept. He can't work with drugs or the people using them. He doesn't work with prostitutes and, unusually, he doesn't work with communists. I guess he gives his subjects a little political questionnaire before pulling his gun out???

When Olav sees Hoffman's wife, his feelings are moved and he rescues her from what would have been her fate. Then he must take steps to avoid his powerful boss and find a place to hide

I thought Olav was well described but not likable. The description of his childhood and his abusive father was one of the interesting sections of the story. I would have enjoyed more of the descriptions about Oslo so I could picture it more completely.

Another part of the story that bears discussion is that on one occasion, Olav listens to his heart instead of his brain and he kills the wrong person. This was a man who was abusing his wife. Olav probably went back to his early adulthood with his own father when Olav turned the gun on the abusive person instead of the woman being abused.

Where I do enjoy Jo Nesbo's writing and will look forward to the next Harry Hole novel, I expected more from this novel.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Blood On Snow”.)

Independence Day (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-27)
Two of my reviewer friends recommended this book highly and we've usually had the same opinion on mystery novels so I decided to read this. Thank you Tom and Bobbewig, you were both right on the mark.

Dewey Andreas a former Delta working as an agent for the CIA is still not himself after the shooting death of his fiancee. Time doesn't stand still and he's needed for another mission, this one could save the lives of many Americans, perhaps more people would die from this nuclear weapon as did in Hiroshima.

A deranged but brilliant hacker has gotten his hands on a nuclear weapon and he wants to have revenge on the United States from his parents murder. This was done by two U.S. agents right in front of the boy, Pytor Varagarian who is now a grown man and skilled hacker known as Cloud.

Cloud has gotten this nuclear weapon from the leader of the Mafia in Moscow. Now Cloud sets up a plan to get the weapon to the United States and blow it on Independence Day at the Statute of Liberty.

Dewey Andreas is one of the excellent action packed heroes. These days he's move in front of Jack Reacher in my list of great characters in suspense novels.

The plot moves as swiftly as hot butter pouring out of a popcorn machine. First Dewey has to be convinced to go on the operation. Then we learn some of the obstacles he has to overcome. We also learn of his childhood and upbringing in Castine Maine where he was a local hero. As a runner, I really enjoyed Dewey's participation in a holiday fun run sponsored by his town. He ran along with a nephew and a teenage niece and their give and take was heart warming to read about.

Codes must be broken, there is a corrupt politician who tries to smear Dewey. We learn more of what Dewey is currently going through but also the history of Cloud and why he turned out the way he did.

There are gun battles, motorcycle chases, characters diving off helicopters onto high rise buildings, we also have the memory of Dewey's past romance. In fact, what separates Dewey from many of the other thriller heroes is his humanity mixed with his bravery.

The secondary characters are well described and the setting is visual. A few times I turned to the back page to see if the book might be in the midst of being filmed.

Highly recommended and thanks again to my reviewing friends.

(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Independence Day”)

King Pawn (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-24)
I went out of my normal reading realm for this book and I'm glad I did.

For a while, I've felt that I didn't know enough of what was going on in Syria and wanted to learn more. When I read about the battles of Aleppo and Homs, they were just words and I didn't have anything that would make the participants more personal.

Reading "King Pawn" changed that for me. It provided an enlightening read and a good story. For my part, I had my computer handy and refreshed my memory by going over accounts of the battle and somewhat of their meaning.

"King Pawn" basically tells the story of Robert Frost who, we are told, has two enemies, the U.S. Army for unfairly dismissing him and the Syrian regime for destroying his mother's family during the 1982 Hama uprising.

There are a number of people who use various aliases and politicians who seem to have one agenda but that is just for show and they really want something else.

Robert Frost becomes Iftikar and then someone else. He's a highly paid mercenary sent to Syria to destabilize the Syrian regime. He makes friends with a number of people who are idealists and for a democratic government. He also uses people as in one case, his people kidnap another man's child and hold her hostage until the man agrees to do Ifkar's bidding.

I had thoughts of some novels I've read where it was difficult to pick the good guys or the bad guys. It would seem that the people fighting for democracy would be who a reader would root for but in fact, situations were staged so that it would seem that government forces were doing something wrong, like destroying a temple of historic value. All the time it was Ifkar who had become Louai who had rebels under his command who he knew would be beaten but it would look good to the world press as if the Syrian government didn't care about historical artifacts.

I made a list of the characters and have to admit that I referred back to my list a number of times to see who was who. But I felt rewarded for my efforts and feel that I've learned more of Syria and Aleppo and Homs and had the benefit of a good story in the meantime.

(This review refers to the expression titled “King Pawn”.)

Maisie Dobbs (2003) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-19)
This is a wonderful story for many reasons. Maisie is a woman ahead of her time, she's gutsy, ambitious and smart as a whip.

Maisie Dobbs began her first job at age thirteen. Her parents wanted to send her to college but the unexpected death of her Mum changed that and her father found a job for her in a suitable position.

Maisie became a maid in an home of Lord and Lady Rowan Compton. Lady Compton was a suffragette and was for the advancement of woman in general. In Maisie, she noticed her in her library and Maisie told her she wanted to read books and learn. Lady Compton was impressed and kept her eye on Maisie. Later, when Maisie became an investigator she sent Maisie customers.

Later, as WWI began, Maisie took nursing training and went to France to help care for the soldiers who were being injured in many ways with gas, shrapnel, bullet wounds and psychological injuries. While overseas, working with the soldiers she was drawn to one.

After the war, Maisie uses some skills learned from one of Lady Compton's connections. Dr. Blanche was a trained psychologist and detective. He taught Maisie deductive thinking and since she had good common sense, he told her to trust her instincts and to beware of coincidences.

Her first case leads her to a woman who would travel to a cemetery twice a week to mourn a young soldier. Maisie travels to a convalescent home being used for wounded and maimed soldiers.

What I liked about the book was Maisie's compassion, her desire to raise above the situation to which she was born, and her manner in working with patients and the people around her.

The scenes in France are well described and we get a look at the difficulties the young nurses faced during the Great War. They not only had to deal with soldiers wounded grievously but they had strict rules of behavior and little understanding for their plight.

(This review refers to the 2003 version titled “Maisie Dobbs”)

Naked eye, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-16)
Kendra Michaels is attempting to convince police officials that the serial killer who helped send to his execution has escaped. Frustratingly, Kendra feels that Eric Colby staged his death with the help of the medical doctor in charge of the execution. She can't prove it because soon after the execution, Colby's body was cremated. Not long after, the doctor and his wife were found murdered.

This compelling page turner continues as Kendra is asked to consult in a murder case and sees the victim posed in a position in the same manner of Colby's other victims.

Then a reporter who humiliated Kendra is found murdered and there is DNA evidence that points to Kendra. It becomes clear that Colby's goal is to set Kendra up.

The mother and son authors Iris and Roy Johansen write with clear dialogue and the action moves along in a nonstop manner.

Kendra is an admirable character. She was blind at birth and it was only twenty years later that a medical procedure enabled her to see. Perhaps due to that, her other senses are heightened.

We follow the killer as he taunts Kendra and plays a deadly game while we await the inevitable confrontation.

There are a number of surprises and there are times that the reader wants to shout, "don't go there" or "look in the back seat" but overall, I enjoyed this novel and recommend it.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Naked eye, The”.)

Fixer, the (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-15)
Since I'll be having a number of tests at the hospital next week, I wanted to find an author I enjoy and an easy read. I was successful in both with "The Fixer" by Joseph Finder. The only problem is that it's such a good story that I kept reading and finished in a couple of days. Darn.

The novel opens with investigative reporter Rick Hoffman moving into his father's former home. His father suffered a massive stroke years ago and is in a convalescent home - unable to communicate.

Rick is down on his luck, with a break-up with his fiancee and the loss of his job. Now, he decides to renovate the house and maybe sell it for a profit. When he breaks out a wall, he finds neatly bound stacks of money at over three million dollars in value. (Have to admit that as I was reading this part, I checked out the walls in my house wondering...)

His father, Leonard, had been an attorney with a questionable clientele. With Rick's reporting background, he decides to look into his father's past, thinking that there might be a good story that he could write and revitalize his reporting career.

The idea behind the story was sound and as Rick's places the money into various banks, he changes his lifestyle and starts spending the money.

He's noticed by some unsavory characters and a group called TPB - the powers that be and something happens that I won't divulge and spoil the story.

Rick meets an old girlfriend and things begin looking up.

The pace was fast and the story kept me awake at night wanting to see what would happen next.
However, I was never drawn to the leading character and didn't have sympathy for his plight.

3.5 * but not quite 4.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Fixer, the”.)

Benefit of the Doubt (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-12)
"Benefit of the Doubt" begins with Harlan Lee's release from prison. He served a seventeen-year-stretch and during that time his father passed away leaving Harlan angry at the world.

He murders a woman in the early part of the story and we learn that this is a step in his settling an old score.

A parallel story concerns Ben Sawyer, a big city cop in Oakland, California. There is an incident and he comes to the aide of a fellow cop who yelled that the suspect had taken his (the other cop's) gun. Ben pulls the suspect off the cop. The suspect knows he's beaten and surrenders to Ben but Ben let's his anger get the best of him. What he does next is captured by a number of cell phone cameras and Ben is forced to resign in disgrace.

He relocates to Newberg and joins the police there. His father-in-law is chief of police and Ben begins work as a detective supervisor. Ben isn't liked or appreciated by most of the other cops who feel he didn't deserve the position.

Ben does begin doing a credible work but his father-in-law has a stroke and Ben loses the person protecting him on the job.

Harlan Lee continues his revenge and in one of his crimes, Ben's wife, Alex, is made to look like the main suspect.

The story moves nicely and the writing keeps the reader's avid attention as we follow Ben's attempt to do his job and defend his wife. During this time, we also observe the corruption within the Newberg Police Department.

The novel is interesting as the author, Neal Griffin, describes how Ben has to continue with his work on the job. There is increasing drug activity in Newberg but only one member of the department thinks Ben is doing a good job and wants to help.

The reader will feel sympathetic for what Ben is going through and wonder how he will overcome the difficulties placed in his way. There is also the question of Ben's marriage and how will that survive.

The characters are well depicted as is the politics of the police department. We hope for Ben's success and wonder if he can succeed against tremendous odds.

I received a copy of this novel in return for my honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Benefit of the Doubt”.)

Scents and Sensibility (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-09)
Bernie Little is a private eye and owner of Little Investigations. Chet is his canine companion and narrator of the story.

"Scents and Sensibility" opens with Bernie returning home and finding his wall safe missing and his prized possession, his grandfather's watch gone.

Bernie's next door neighbor, Daniel Parsons, is elderly and forgetful. Bernie asks him if he still has the house key that Bernie gave him but Parsons can't remember.In questioning Parsons further, Bernie learns that his son, Billy, was recently released from prison for kidnapping. Billy served fifteen years but Parsons tells Bernie that Billy is a good person who just got involved with the wrong people.

There is a new saguaro cactus plant on Parsons' front lawn. While Bernie is still at Parsons home, a representative of the Department of Agriculture arrives. She has followed the chip in the cactus and questions Parsons about how he came to receive it. Did he know it's against the law to move a saguaro cactus from public land and replanting it on private land? Parsons is brought in for questioning and hires Bernie to find out about the cactus.

When Bernie and Chet travel to the area of the desert where the Agricultural officer claims the cactus came from. They come upon a murder victim and the story moves to another level.

The story is told in a liesurly manner as Chet relates what is happening. It is fascinating to see how a dog could solve certain difficulties. Some of this fun comes from the dog wondering what was the meaning of various statements like raining cats and dogs. Of course, Chet would love to see rain like that.

As the investigation progresses, more facts about the kidnapping come to light, other people are questioned and part of the search is for the $500,000 in ransom that was never recovered.

There is a wonderful segment when Chet gets into a difficult position but another dog, Shooter, is able to help. There is a trip back from the desert that reminded me of a scene from "The Lady and a Tramp.''

The story is told in such a manner that the reader could imagine the events to be true, stretched a good bit, but true.

I received a copy of this book in return for my honest review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Scents and Sensibility”.)

Broken Promise (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-07)
I've been a long time fan of Linwood Barclay. In "Broken Promise" he leads the reader up to a grand finale but the conclusion of the story leaves the reader disappointed.

David Harwood is a widowed father, raising his nine-year-old son, Ethan, on his own. He was working for a newspaper in Boston but felt he'd have more quality of life by moving back to Promise Falls, where his parents were living.

When he arrives in Promise Falls, he learns that the newspaper that promised him a job has folded. With no job in the near future, his mother asks him to look in on his cousin, Marla. Marla has been having a rough time since she gave birth to a still-born child a number of months ago.

When David reaches Marla's home, She's caring for a nine-month-old baby. She tells David that an angel delivered baby Matthew to her. Incredulous, David sees an address on the baby stroller and when he goes to that address, he sees that the woman living there has been murdered.

The story is told from David's perspective with alternating chapters from the point of view of other characters. This works well in making the reader appreciate the characters and caring for them.

Through the remainder of the novel, David attempts to find answers to the murder. A subplot involves the number 23. Twenty-three animals are killed and left in an obvious place to be discovered. There is action at a closed theme park with three mannequins on carriage twenty-three and note stating You'll Be Sorry.There is also a man though to be a rapist at a local college with an associated number.23.

The writing is polished and the characters well described. The evidence points in one direction but the reader wonders who else might be involved and what would be there motive.

The smooth action continues until the conclusion. It's almost as if Barclay was writing for a sequel and pens "stay tuned for the next book to learn what happens." There are a number of unanswered questions around the number 23, and a woman David met who claims he set her up.

What did the officials mean when they state in concluding moments..."Our guy's come back...or maybe he never left."

(This review refers to the expression titled “Broken Promise”.)

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