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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”.)

Nemesis (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-08-03)
Catherine Coulter is the author of numerous "New York Times" bestselling crime thrillers. She performs her storytelling expertise in "Nemesis" a page turner with pizzazz.
FBI Special Agents Dillon Savich and the gutsy Lacey Sherlock, a husband and wife team, work in two crime scenarios.
Sherlock is in line at JFK airport for the security check. She spots a man acting strangely. He fits the terrorist profile and as soon as the man grabs an unsuspecting woman and threatens to blow everyone up with a hand grenade. With her martial arts training, she disarms the man and saves many lives. However, in so doing, she becomes a target of revenge for the terrorist leader.
Savich is in Virginia where two people are murdered with an athane, a type of Wiccan ceremonial knife. Savich comes across a group of Wiccans who are out for revenge for two related crimes against them.
There is drama and excellent suspense as the reader follows the likable characters in their investigations. There are also a number of surprises as the two plots continue to play out. Interestingly, the reader follows the action from Savich and Sherlock's point of view but also from that of the arrogant terrorist leader.
Coulter tells the story in a manner that makes the reader proud of having an organization like the FBI that can foil the terrorists. In so doing, the reader learns the motivation of the terrorist leader.
The contempt that the terrorist has for America and England is explained and we root for Savich and Sherlock to stop the plot.
Some of the story dealt with a bomb at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The two structures mean so much to America and England that I would have enjoyed reading more of the descriptions of the two Cathedrals and what it would mean to destroy them.
Overall, an excellent read and captivating story.

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

Code of Conduct (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-29)
In "Code of Conduct" ex-Navy SEAL Scot Harvath is sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo to learn what happened to a WHO health clinic..

He and his team discover that the health clinic is empty but has been sanitized. Further investigation shows that there had been a blood bath. They search the area and come upon a father and his blind son and learn what transpired.

In a linked story, we learn of a beautiful woman who was trapped in a sex slave operation and what happens when she's had too much to bear.

As the action continues to fire up the pages, a billionaire maniaz feels the world's population is too vast and will destroy the world. He conspires to set up a plan to drastically lower the population of the world.

With nervous hands turning the pages I feared for the world and follow as the plot moves to the United States. People begin to become sick and die.

An African fever -African Hemorrhagic Fever- (in the Ebola family) is set loose and more and more people become affected.

How will anyone stop the virus from wiping out large segments of the world? Then a twist that couldn't be foreseen changes the direction of the story...

Sounds terrifying....let me catch my breath.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Code of Conduct”.)

Cruelest Month, The (2008) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-29)
In another story of Chief Inspector Gamache of the surete du Quebec, the reader is taken to the colorful, wintry village of Three Pines, a forgotten village like a Canadian Brigadoon (without the singing.)

The story opens as the villagers are getting ready to celebrate Easter and having an Easter egg hunt. Then they decide to celebrate Easter and the renewal of life, with a seance. It is to be at the Timmer Hadley house which brings up bad memories for at least one villager.

The headlines of the paper the following day after the seance is that a woman is scared to death at a seance.

Gamache is sent to investigate and he must find if there is a crime and then find a possible murderer, all the while where is office is filled with intrigue and the prior superintendent is serving time in jail thanks to Gamache's diligent work. However, this man had friends and they aren't the type to forget Gamache's actions.

Even in his own family, there are things he must deal with with his daughter and son-in-law living in Paris and Gamache's wife, wanting to spend more time with them.

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

Crazy Mountain Kiss (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-26)
I enjoy novels of the American West. After seeing the cover blurb in "Crazy Mountain Kiss," that the story would be perfect for fans of Craig Johnson, I was sold.

A member of the Madison River Liar and Fly Tiers club comes to a rented mountain cabin in order to work on his manuscript. Wanting to warm the cabin up, he checks the chimney and finds a Santa hat there. Then he climbs on the roof of the cabin and finds the body of a teenage girl wedged in the chimney.

How could the teenager get into this spot? What caused her death? These are questions that on again off again private investigator Sean Stranahan is hired to find out.

The story moves at a liesurly pace as we learn about the characters and life in the Montana mountains.

The deceased, Cindy Huntington is well described. She seemed so full of life and ready for the happiness in her future that her untimely death hits the reader and the other characters hard.

Stranahan keeps at his trade and discovers that there is an adult couples club that would rent the mountain cabin from the Forest Service. Sean begins interviewing the members of the club and comes across a group of wacky characters. Then he begins to get closer to the person responsible for Cindy's death.

It is easy to see why there is a comparison to the work of Craig Johnson. One of the characters is a consultant for a modern TV show about the American West. The show has an American Indian as the sidekick to the sheriff and the sheriff himself, being a tall man who has to duck his head to enter rooms, good comparison to Johnson's TV show, "Longmire".

The life of the characters is well portrayed but the action suffers and it is drawn out before Stranahan makes further headway into solving the crime.

McCafferty is skilled with the character descriptions and tales of their adventures but I would have enjoyed it more if he got right to solving the mystery. In addition, some of the characters seemed to be right out of a Hallmark TV movie. However, "Crazy Mountain Kiss" is an enjoyable read and excellent for a book to read on a vacation.

I received a free copy of this book for review.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Crazy Mountain Kiss”.)

Retribution (2004) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-22)
In this fine novel which was nominated for the Anthony Award for the Best First Mystery Novel, a predator stalks and rapes law student Chloe Larson and escapes.

12 years later, a string of murders has occurred in the Miami area. The killer is dubbed, cupid and the cupid killer. A policeman pulls a car over for a traffic offense and when the driver refuses to allow the author to check his trunk, a K-9 unit is called. The dog whiffs something. On popping the trunk, they find a dead girl with a missing heart. William Bantling demands a lawyer.

He's brought before the court and prosecutor C.J.Townsend. Is Bantling the serial killer or a copy cat? Then, C. J. hears the man's voice and remembers it. Even though it's been 12 years, C.J. remembers the attack, the break-up of her relationship and her nervous breakdown. She had moved to Florida, changed her name and passed the Florida bar exam. She's able to survive with drive and periodic visits to her analyst.

When C. J. recognizes the voice she becomes more determined than ever, to make sure that the man who raped her and killed the woman in his trunk gets what he deserves. C.J. must walk a thin line between justice and retribution.

This is a wonderful plot driven novel. C.J.Townsend is a first rate protagonist, sympathetic yet strong in her resolve. The author adds an interesting but somewhat predictable plot twist at the end which heightened the enjoyment.

Film rights have been sold to Warner Brothers and John Wells Productions, the film is currently under development.

(This review refers to the 2004 version titled “Retribution”)

In the Blood (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-22)
I was really in the mood for a good book when I began "In the Blood."

The complex story tells of Lana Granger, a college student who has a limited trust fund. The manager of the trust advises her to get a job to supplement the trust income, something easy to do while she continues her studies. She sees a notice about a babysitting job and accepts the position.

Luke is the boy Lana will be taking care of. He's age eleven and has a troubled past. He's been expelled from numerous schools and is a demanding and controlling boy.

Lana's own life has been a nightmare. There is a major memory of her mother's death and now her college roommate, Beck, disappears. Beck (short for Rebecca) is also Lana's best friend.

The reader learns that Lana is a habitual liar so it's difficult to know when to believe her. There are questions about Beck's disappearance and that of another girl a few years before. Lana's reaction to these incidents don't seem to make her very upset. She comes across as a self centered and selfish woman. She is also hard to like.

However, as the reader learns more about her past, feelings change. There are some surprises to the story and one of them had me wondering how it could be possible.

Luke, although only eleven, seems to make Lana do his bidding and I found this unlikely.

Overall, not many likable characters. The story does move fast but I wish there was more to it.

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

4th of July (2005) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-19)
Det. Lt. Lindsay Boxer, SFPD is with friends from the women's murder club when her former partner tells her that there is a lead on a vehicle from the scene of a murder. After a chase of the vehicle, a shootout ensues. Lindsay and her partner are both shot, one of the two teenagers in the car is killed and the other injured.

After Lindsay's release from the hospital from her injuries, she learns that the father of the twenagers in the chase is suing her for wrongful death, excessive use of force and police misconduct.

This is a very timely topic. If only the teenagers were black the headlines would have been horrific. However Lindsay is put on leave while the case comes to trial.

During this time, she travels to her sister's home not far from San Francisco. While there a true policeman's or policewoman's holiday takes place. A number of murders take place in Half Moon Bay and Lindsay offers her expertise in an attempt to solve the murders.

This is a great book for a summer read. Fast moving action, a good protagonist, her dog, Penelope, a large Vietnamese potbellied pig and a number of murders.

Not much character development but it's not really necessary, most of us have read of Lindsay Boxer and the women's murder club. (Although they aren't a factor in this story.) Some well placed surprises and a clever novel to read.

(This review refers to the 2005 version titled “4th of July”)

Cartel, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-07-18)
Don Winslow has created another edge of seat thriller with "The Cartel." I was totally captivated by the story and rate it among the best novels I've read this year.

In a story that seemed so true that much of the action could have been taken from the pages of the newspaper, DEA Agent, Art Keller is up against Adan Barrera, the head of El Federation, the most powerful cartel. Barrera murdered Keller's partner and betrayed Keller's friendship. Finally, putting Barrera away costs Keller the woman he loves.

However, Barrera escapes and Keller sets out on a marathon chase to bring him to justice.

As I was reading the story, the news of El Chapo's escape from prison brought this story home with a wallop. In "The Cartel," Barrera, like El Chapo" breaks out of prison and resumes his active leadership of his cartel.

We see the other cartels in action in most parts of Mexico and their unstoppable rise to power.

Barrera and the leaders of the other cartels are utterly brutal. They think nothing of killing innocent women and children in horrendous manners. As their power grows, the cartels between to clash and a war between the crime families ensues. Neither the local police nor government forces seem able to stop their rise to power and the spread of their empires.

The characters are colorful and well drawn. Anyone picking up this massive novel and expecting an easy read will be disappointed. Instead, it is a powerful expose of the Mexican cartels and the manner in which they become so powerful. Art Keller is an excellent protagonist, true to life, with flaws but heroic.

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

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