Most Recent Reviews
Memory Man (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-04)
As I was being entertained by the story, "Memory Man," I kept thinking how good a writer and storyteller David Baldacci is.
This novel introduces a new protagonist, Amos Decker. He was a pro football player who suffered a massive hit on the helmet by another player. The helmet to helmet collision ended his career and caused an unexplained side effect - he never forgets anything.
Decker went on to be a cop in Burlington and was very successful until a killer murder his wife and family - including his ten-year-old daughter. He resigned from the police department and from life. He ended up sleeping on the streets until he rebounded enough to live in a motel and start a private investigator business. Since he can't forget anything, he continues to see events of that night and it almost brings him to the brink of suicide.
Over a year later, a homeless man confesses to the killing but when Decker gets to question him, he can't provide the small details of the crime.
During this time, there is a mass killing at the high school. Decker ic called back to the job to help with the investigation.
Are the two crimes related? If not, the odds of two horrific killings a year apart don't seem possible.
With the homeless man set free, Decker and his old partner attempt to recreate the crimes to see who might be the killer. They go into Decker's past and come up with various obstacles and surprises.
Since Decker can't forget things, he's able to look at evidence in a minute manner and make progress.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Memory Man”.)
Less Than Hero (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-27)
S. G. Browne has written a contemporary, change of pace novel that packs a strong message in a wrapper of fun.
"Less than Hero" is a social commentary introducing Lloyd Prescott, a thirty-year-old professional guinea pig. For the past five years he's participated in over 150 clinical trials.
The pharmaceutical companies have volunteers who test experimental drugs for cash. In a typical month, Lloyd can make over $3,000. He also has a part-time job where he stands in Central Park with various signs for handouts. One states that he will accept money for abuse. People call him all sorts of things and he just thanks them as he accepts their money.
Lloyd and a group of five friends who are also human guinea pigs. They wonder if all the drugs they put in their bodies could have any effect. This is answered in a humorous fashion as Lloyd and his friend, Randy, are on the J train to Manhattan. Three punks enter the train and begin harassing a homeless man. Eventually Randy tells them to leave the man alone. Lloyd is expecting the worse but stands beside his friend facing the punks. Lloyd nicknames them Cue Ball, Cornrows and Soul Patch.
As the train pulls into Essex Street station, Cue Ball's skin turns bright red and blotchy and he becomes covered with hives. His friends back away from him and Lloyd and Randy casually depart from the train.
There are many parts of the story that had me laughing out loud. Lloyd and his friends all exhibit various powers. Lloyd has the ability to fall asleep before him, another in the group causes diarrhea and vomiting.
The men decide to use their powers to protect the innocent. Examples of this are funny and funnier.
To add to the uniqueness, Lloyd's girlfriend is a human statue. She stands in Central Park as a Fairy, sprinkling pixie dust on those who leave her a contribution.
The characters are well described, the scenes are most entertaining and the story is a fun romp and is a critique of a broken and corrupt pharmaceutical industry.
For those wanting a good story and something different, this is the book I recommend.
I received a free book in return for my honest review.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Less Than Hero”)
Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-25)
In a story reminiscent of "The Monument Men," Steve Anderson used research that he performed on a Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship in Munich from 1993-94.
It tells of actions in Munich, Germany in 1945. Capt.Harry Kaspar, U.S.Army, is appointed military leader of Heimgau, a Bavarian town. Upon arriving at his assignment and with plans of the good he would be doing, he finds three men on the road, recently killed. Upon entering the town, he meets Maj.Robertson Membre who is also assigned as MG (Military Governor). Since Membre's orders come from Frankfort, it's a higher command and they take preference.
As a consolation, Member assigned Kaspar as Public Safety, he is to be the acting police chief.
The story details the power of the conqueror, Germany is defeated and the to the victor belongs the spoils.
Harry goes about his work and finds a good German man, Herr Winkl, a former policeman, to be his assistant. With all the good intentions, Harry is stymied by Membre and a Col. Spanner who has his own plan.
We see the corruption and the few who want to do something about it. It is interesting to see some of the activities at the end of the war such as the prisoners and soldiers coming home and wanting their old homes. It is also to see the few Jewish survivors who have so little but deserve more.
The bulk of the novel tells of Harry and his attempt to prevent the small town from turning to a corrupt area and criminals such as the man, Jenke, a convict, turned S.A. thug appointed to a new position of authority.
There is a romantic side as Harry meets Katrina who is well described and someone the reader will want to succeed with what she has in mind for herself and a number of Jewish friends.
There is a great deal to be considered in the story such as corruption, greed and how war can affect various people and communities.
I received a free book in return for an honest review.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945”.)
Billy Bathgate (1989) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-22)
As a reader opens the pages of "Billy Bathgate" they are taken back to the days of prohibition and notorious gangsters.
One of those famous gangsters wi Dutch Schultz. He befriends Billy and becomes a father-like figure to the fifteen-year-old boy. Shultz who was born in the Bronx in 1901 built his criminal network from bootlegging, gambling and murder.
Billy lives with his mom in a run down area of Lenox Ave and 125th street. He had no father and no direction in life. He comes to idolize Schultz from his power, the way he's revered in the community and by many of New York jet setters.
There are many shady characters in the story. The reader gets to share some of the words of Walter Winchell and hear Schultz's remarks of Thomas E. Dewey.
Schultz has a girlfriend and Billy spends a great deal of time with her she is much of the reason for his sexual awakening.
I enjoyed the story and look back into a time that many of our parents and grandparents enjoyed. Their stories may be gone but in this story, some of the events of that time are brought to life once more.
The characters are well developed and become likable in their own way. It is particularly fun to witness the Jewish Schultz conversion to Catholicism as nears his trial date and he attempts to build a good-guy image.
(This review refers to the 1989 version titled “Billy Bathgate”)
Rope, The (2012) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-21)
For fans of Anna Pigeon, if you are curious as to how she became involved with the National Park Service, this is the story of how that came about.
Anna is in her first days with the NPS. She's age thirty-five and just off a bus from New York where she leaves some heartbreaking memories.
She gets a job as a seasonal employee doing mundane work and living with a group of other seasonal employees.
Being a nature lover, on her day off she decides to go for a hike. She sees something but is hit on the back of the head and wakes up at the bottom of a dry well, naked and with no clear memory of what happened. She also has a word scratched into her leg which she can't figure a reason for.
She continues to call for help and wonders why no one comes to find her. However, her clothes have been removed from her room and the other employees figure she didn't care for the job and went back to New York.
The interest in the story is to learn about Anna's early life. It is also to see the relationships between other seasonal employees living in close proximity. Much of the action is centered in the Lake Powell area which is a waterway created after a dam was built. For those really interested, I did a web search of Lake Powell and the party boats that people rent there, it's truly beautiful.
Nevada Barr is a former Nation Park Service Ranger and she speaks from experience. It is also enlightening to read about what Park Rangers and other employees come across in their dealings with the public and with the politics of the National Park Service.
It was a good story and one I'd recommend to Nevada Barr fans and those interested in the outdoors. The characters are well developed and Anna is a very likable character as are a number of the other employees she encounters. There are a number of surprises that add to the entertainment value of the story.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Rope, The”.)
Storm Prey (2010) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-18)
During John Sandford's "Storm Prey" four men rob a hospital pharmacy. When one of the employees tries to call for help, one of the robbers kicks him so hard, the older man dies of complications.
The robbers also had an inside man who let them into the hospital. Later, we learn about him and his dependency on drugs that caused him to be part of the robbers' scheme.
Lucas Davenport's wife, Weather Karkinnen. is a plastic surgeon at the hospital. She's involved in a major surgical procedure where many of the hospital staff are working together to separate two little girls joined at the head. As Weather came to work on the day of the robbery, she got a good view of the driver of the get away car.
Much of the remainder of this engrossing novel deals with the robbers having a fallout between themselves and attempting to eliminate anyone who could identify them.
They aren't killers so they hire a crazed young killer from California. When the shooter, Cappy, attempts to shoot Weather on her way home from work, we are thrilled by her observing the would be assassin and turning the table on him. She's a true cop's wife and alert to circumstances that get in her way.
The reader gets an immediate sense of drama that the author is noted for in his wonderful series involving the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Lucas Davenport and his leading detective, Virgil Flowers.
The story moves swiftly - so much so that I kept putting off my dinner so I could read the next exciting segment.
It is interesting to watch Lucas, Virgil and various police departments join in the search. The compulsive story continues chapter by chapter until its exciting climax.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Storm Prey”.)
Speaking in Bones (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-15)
In this contemporary novel, Kathy Reichs places Dr. Tempe Brennan in a number of suspenseful and interesting situations.
Tempe is approached by Hazel "Lucky" Strike. She's an amateur detective and matches unidentified bodies with people who have gone missing. She's a member of a group called Websleuth.where people compete to solve cold cases.
Lucky plays a tape for Tempe where a woman appears to have recorded her own murder. Further, Lucky is positive that the voice is of a missing eighteen-year-old girl, Cora Teague. Cora went missing a number of years ago and Lucky believes that Teague's bones are being held by Dr. Brennan's office, under unidentified subjects.
Although doubtful, Dr. Brennan contacts Det. Zeb Ramsey from the town where Teague's family lives. They work together in investigating the facts.
There are two interesting subplots to the story, in one, Tempe's on again off again boyfriend, Lt. Det Andrew Ryan from Canada, asks her to marry him. Tempe has to make a decision and facts from her past come into play.
In the other subplot, Brennan's mother is in a nearby health facility with cancer. She is lonely and wants attention. Brennan visits her mother and then her mother asks about the case and wants to help via her computer.
As Brennan looks into similar cases, it's gripping to so many people whose bones have been found but the are not identified.
Cora Teague was a member of a fundamentalist church. Her family refuse to help and tell Brennan that their daughter ran away with her boyfriend. The pastor of their church stands in the way of any investigation. Tempe and Ramsey have difficulty understanding why there is this reluctance to help as the group conveys utterances of lost souls and evilness.
Not to reveal plot, but the reader follows the story as suspense and tension increase. There are several surprises along the way.
The story focuses on relationships, faith and Dr. Brennan's persistence in learning the truth.
I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Speaking in Bones”.)
Fatal Harbor (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-11)
I was immediately drawn to "Fatal Harbor" by the interesting and imaginative book cover.
The novel is well written and has an interesting premise about negative aspects of nuclear power. The main character, Lewis Cole has been around for seven prior episodes and although this story can stand alone, it would be a little help to have read the prior book, "Deadly Cove."
Just reading comments from other Amazon reviewers, the reader can see how much other readers enjoy and even love the character of Lewis Cole.
In this book, he is looking for revenge. Days after a protest at an anti nuclear demonstration Lewis is thinking about his best friend, Diane Woods who has been left in a coma from someone at the demonstration. Lewis vows to find the man and to kill him.
As Lewis goes on his investigation, with help from his friend, Felix Tinios, he has the one goal of revenge and can't be persuaded to do anything else.
He overcomes obstacles, sees personal effects that the people behind the man Lewis is after, strike at one of the things Lewis loves, yet, he keeps going, like a hungry wolf.
There is a good discussion of the academic theory about why nuclear power plants hurt the earth's ecology even at the callous disregard for those injured in the crusade of the demonstrators, yet, Lewis goes on.
The story entertained as Lewis meets the father of a young man killed by the leader of the Nuclear Freedom Front and the story takes a turn.
I recommend the story and intend to look into other books of this fine author.
I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Fatal Harbor”.)
Fateful Lightning, the (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-08)
I enjoyed reading "The Fateful Lightning" during a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. I began the book a bit before the vacation so I'd be able to get into the meat of the story while in Charleston.
The historical setting added to the enjoyment and appreciation of the book.
The story centers on Gen William J. Hardee; Capt. James Seeley; Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Gen.Joseph E. Johnson for the South and Franklin (a former slave); Gen Oliver Howard, Gen. Henry Slocum; Maj. Lewis Dayton; Maj. James McCoy; Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Gen. William T. Sherman.
We learn about events through the character's words and opinions of those around or opposed to them. The figures loom so high during the Civil War but many of the combatants were relatively young men. In the 1864 time frame of "The Fateful Lightning" Sherman was age 40; Henry Slocum was 37; Kilpatrick 28; Wheeler 28; Hardee 49. Their achievements were so staggering that it's difficult to imagine them doing so at their relatively young ages.
Franklin's story is told as he becomes a free man and follows Sherman's army, wanting to do as much as he can to assure a Northern victory.
The author also brings out the idea that many of the Confederate officers were not up to the combat and troop movement skills of their northern counterparts. At one point, South Carolina Governor Magrath says to Gen. Hardee, "...it has long been understood that President Davis attends to matters close to his own priorities, which do not include any army that he himself is not managing."
Some of the failures mentioned is one Confederate General being overly cautious and not taking advantage of battle situations, another Connecticut General was overly aggressive and then would change the description of events to meet his own version. In Gen Bragg's case, as the battle over Macon is getting underway, Bragg is taking over the command at the Confederate Garrison in Augusta. This surprises Sherman who has already defeated him in a number of battles.
When the governor of a Georgia recalled his militias, it greatly weakened Hardee's forces but in a battle of states rights, the Governor controlled this segment of the army.
There is also an author postscript telling what became of a number of the central figures, such as Slocum's work on the Brooklyn Bridge and in New York politics, Wade Hampton being elected Governor of South Carolina and Henry Hitchcock's return to his law practice and later being a cofounder of the American Bar Association. All of these accomplishments made me think how much the country had lost from those who were killed during the Civil War and their possible accomplishments died with them.
The book is richly researched and provides a good view of the characters, the settings and the politics of the final days of the Civil War.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “The Fateful Lightning”)
Burglar in the Library, the (1997) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-08)
"The Burglar in the Library" is an enjoyable Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery.
This is the second time I've read the story and it has remained enjoyable and entertaining.
Bernie and his companion, Caroline Kaiser, leave New York City and travel upstate New York to a traditional English country house that has been converted to a B & B.
Bernie is a book store owner in New York and knows his mystery writers. He has found that Raymond Chandler, one of the founders of the hard-boiled mystery will be at a friend's home in Connecticut in 1941. Also at the home will be Dashiell Hammett. While together Chandler personalizes a copy of his novel, "The Big Sleep" to Dashiell.
Bernie thinks that the country house he's going to was the same place where Hammett and Chandler were. If that book was left in the library, it would be worth big money.
When they get to the Cuttfield House a severe snowstorm is blowing. Eventually, the house is cut off, and someone cuts the electricity, then the fun begins, someone begins killing the people at the House.
As a mystery fan myself, it was so much fun to hear about Ed McBain, Agatha Christie as well as Chandler and Hammett as characters in a story.
The pace of the story is finely tuned and the book provides constant enjoyment. It's just what that doctor ordered for a patient wanting a good read.
(This review refers to the 1997 version titled “Burglar in the Library, the”)
Dry Bones (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-06-06)
Looking for an entertaining novel to pass the time on rainy days? Try Craig Johnson's"Dry Bones."
In the story, skeletal remains of a large dinosaur are discovered. The uniqueness of the skeleton, the size and condition of the remains place its value at around eight million dollars.
Now, the fun part, Part of the land where the dig is going on is on Indian territory. A permit is necessary to excavate this area and guess who doesn't have one?
The archaeologist wants the skeleton for High Plains Dinosaur Museum, the Indian tribe where the skeleton is found want it for an Indian Museum. The family of the land owner have plans of their own.
Complicating plans further, The elderly landowner is found dead in a pond populated by large turtles who have dined on parts of his bones. (could this be in revenge for those ordering turtle soup at their favorite restaurant?) The parts of the body that are missing make determining the cause of death difficult. Normally an autopsy would be ordered but Indian tradition doesn't permit autopsy unless suspicious cause of death
Sheriff Walt Longmire has the unenviable task of sorting out these issues. This happens just when his undersheriff, Vic Moretti returns to Philadelphia where her brother is shot. Her brother, Michael, a patrolman with the Philadelphia P.D. is also the daughter of Walt's daughter, Cady who was on her way to visit Walt with her five-month-old baby.
Craig Johnson packs all these elements together like a new deck of cards. As a grandfather, I found Walt's befuddlement over getting ready for his grandchild's visit entertaining. What the heck is a back & play? Who knows how to put one together? It's great that Walt has friends.
Walt's character is well developed, realistically portrayed and likable. The story is top notch.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Dry Bones”)
Don't Lose Her (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-31)
U.S. District Judge, Diane Manchester is abducted just prior to her determination on the case against a Colombian drug lord. Complicating matters is that Diane is age forty-three and eight months pregnant with her first child.
Max Freeman, private investigator, and former Philadelphia cop, works for Diane's husband, Billy, a black lawyer from Philadelphia who prefers to remain behind the scenes, juggling law and investment work.
No words are uttered by Diane's abductors. Her head is covered and she can't see the people who are holding her captive.
Officials are perplexed because there is no follow-up ransom demand. Since Diane was working on the case of the Columbian drug lord, Max speculates that it might have a connection with that.
With funds and input from Billy, Max looks into Diane's prior cases. Billy gives Max the details of the most likely cases where Diane sent a person to prison and now that person's sentence is over and they might be free from prison and want a revenge kidnapping.
The premise of the story is sound but Diane isn't permitted to talk to the people who abducted her, and they don't talk to one another in her presence. Author Jonathan King fails to create a sympathetic character. Even though Diane is eight months pregnant and worried about her child, the reader will find it difficult to relate or sympathise with her or her wealthy husband.
One minor character, one of Diane's abductors, is a young woman and she feel remorse for abducting Diane.
This character is sympathetic as we share her thoughts as Diane attempts to communicate with her about the baby.
The middle section of the story was slow and the conclusion was a surprise, perhaps too much so without sufficient foreshadowing. I enjoy the work of Jonathan King and will look forward to his next novel.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Don't Lose Her”)
Stardust (1990) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-26)
In "The Journal of Popular Culture," Scott R. Christianson writes about tough talk and wisecracks. "...the hardboiled detective/narrator talks all the time to the reader. He talks tough and he talks smart but mainly - as the narrator of the story as well as the protagonist - he talks a lot."
As an example of the above, Robert Parker's wonderful P.I., Spenser, demonstrates in Parker's "Stardust," published in 1990.
Spenser is asked to protect a spoiled, temperamental TV star, Jill Joyce. She stars in TV's Fifty Minutes and has been filming the TV show from Boston.
The story in "Stardust" seems realistic as we learn that someone has been harassing Jill and she demands protection. She shows that on the TV show she may be a star but off screen she's something else.
When violence erupts and someone on the TV crew is killed, Spenser goes into action to find the killer.
Jill drinks to excess and seems like a sex starved nymphomaniac, but underneath her outward persona, Spenser recognizes fear and vulnerability.
He investigates her background and learns things that make him sad to see. How can someone who had to rise above misfortune gain the public spotlight? And, at what cost?
There are lessons of endearment and loyalty that Spenser demonstrates to his own love, psychologist, Susan and we see the empathy Spenser shows for a number of people associated with Jill whose lives have also been shattered.
For a dish of mystery topped with a flavoring of humor, this can be the main course.
(This review refers to the 1990 version titled “Stardust”)
Dead Money Run (2013) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-24)
As I was enjoying "Dead Money Run," by J. Frank James, I associated the hard boiled character of Lou Malloy with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. The fact that Hammell was a former Pinkerton Detective helped him with creating realistic dialogue and that is what there is plenty of in this novel. I'm sure that if Humphrey Bogart was with us today, he could play the part of Lou Malloy on the big screen.
Lou Malloy is released from prison after serving fifteen years for robbing a casino of fifteen million dollars. A few months prior to his release, Lou received a letter telling him about his sister's murder. As Lou later learns, his sister, Susan, was doing something honorable when she was tortured and murdered.
The action packed story has Lou (think Sam Spade) taking one step at a time, eliminating gunman and getting closer to who was responsible for his sister's death.
Lou has the good luck to team up with Hilary Kelly, a private eye, hired by the insurance company who paid the claim to the Indian Casino for the money Lou stole. Hilary is suppose to befriend Lou and have him lead her to the money but she falls for him and becomes his partner.
Various criminals are after Lou and he is able to dispatch them with ease. (I'm still seeing Bogart with the gun and maybe blowing on the barrel of his gun as he shoots another goon.)
There are a number of levels to the story. On one hand there is the family love Lou shows for Susan. She was only fifteen when he was sent to prison. He seems to feel an inner regret that he wasn't there to protect her. We also see the friendship and emotional connection between Lou and Hilary. Finally, there is the friendship between Lou and Crusher, Lou's powerful protector in prison and right hand man in this story.
Overall, this is a gem of a story as if one of the classic hard boiled novels was recently found and released.
Don't miss it.
I received a free book for an honest review.
(This review refers to the 2013 version titled “Dead Money Run”)
Good Killing, a (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-20)
A sister's love for her sister comes to the front in Allison Leotta's "A Good Killing."
The story was inspired by the real-life Jerry Sandusky case and captures the reader's attention from the first page and keeps running.
Anna Curtis is a sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C. She puts her career on hold and comes to Michigan to defend her sister Jody from a murder charge.
Small town life is depicted and the love of football is well illustrated. High school football dominates the life of Holly Grove, a town not far from Detroit.
Owen Fowler,the town's beloved football coach is dead and Jody Curtis is charged with the crime.
The pacing of the story is right on the mark as current action is separated from the incidents of Jody's life as a fifteen-year-old. She is a high school athlete competing in the high jump and searching for something she could do that would surpass her older sister who is a star and a college student at that time.
Coach Fowler becomes Jody's mentor and life seems grand. Then, something happens and Jody's dreams are shattered.
Anna shows intelligence and determination as she defends her sister. She's coming from her own emotional roller coaster as she has just called off her wedding. A high school friend and Afghan War vet and amputee, helps in the investigation. He is well described and the kind of character the reader will want to succeed.
The dialogue flows smoothly and small town life jumps from the pages. It's the kind of story the reader will want to turn the pages gripped with the suspense and emotional upheaval of the story.
I received a free book in return for my honest review.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “A Good Killing”)
Ruins of War (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-16)
In "Ruins of War," World War II history,a tormented serial killer and a highly motivated military police investigator combine for a satisfying and intelligent read.
Mason Collins is a former Chicago homicide detective who was fired from his job, allegedly, for accepting kickbacks.
He's assigned to Munich, Germany CID in 1945. The city is divided into military segments after the end of the war. Collins's first assignment is to view the victim of a murderer. The action ratchets up as Collins gets an investigation unit working on the case and the killer selects his next victim.
There's a snag when Collins' boss would rather go after a gang that was partially made up of U.S. deserters and there was a connection to the U.S. while the killer had murdered a victim who was initially unidentified.
What particularly drew me to the story was the World War II setting and the vivid descriptions of Munich with bombed out buildings, multitudes of orphans, and many displaced persons. These DP's came from people who were freed from concentration camps, German and U.S. deserters, soldiers who came from counties where they were forced to fight for Germany such as Czechoslovakia and general criminals.
Mason shows his tenderness in helping to feed orphans and in his desire to do justice and find the killer - at all costs and the reader relates to him and hopes for his success.
The excellent descriptions of primary and secondary characters was another entertaining element to the story. The suspenseful story had me turning pages late into the night.
(This review refers to the 2015 version titled “Ruins of War”)
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