Most Recent Reviews
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 expression 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 expression titled “Good Killing, A”.)
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 expression titled “Ruins of War”.)
Gathering Prey (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-13)
"...ride along with this. You don't have to be bleeding to be hurt."
These words are spoken by Lucas Davenport of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Travelers are a group who move from city to city, panhandling, not engaging in criminal activity, just staying on the move.
Syke and Henry are travelers who make contact with Lettie, a student at Stanford and Lucas Davenport's adopted daughter. Lettie befriends the couple and buys them a meal, then gives them her cell phone number when they tell her they will be in near her hometown in the future.
Later, Syke and Henry travel to a Juggalo Gathering. This is where groups of young people gather, paint their faces, smoke dope and dance. Before going, they tell Lettie that there is one dangerous person who attends these gatherings, his name is Pilate and he enjoys inflicting pain..
Pilate is a Charles Manson type character. He is crazy and enjoys hurting and tormenting others. He thinks that runaways, homeless people or travelers make good subjects of his violence since no one would miss them. He has a group of followers, the women prostitute themselves and turn over their paychecks to him and the men do his bidding, stealing and selling dope.
There is quite a similarity between Pilate and Charles Manson. One of Pilate's early victims was a blond, pretty entertainer who Pilot mutilated and murdered. This event reminded me of Sharon Tate's murder by Manson. Pilate feels like a god who can do whatever he wants to a person without reprisal.
I have read many crime novels and am happy to say that John Sanford has created a fresh plot with clean, dialogue that flows like a police training film. The secondary characters are also unique and create a desire in the reader - to learn what will happen with them.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Gathering Prey”.)
Bone Tree, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-10)
Like many other readers, I enjoyed "Natchez Burning," and wanted to learn what happened to the characters.' "The Bone Tree" carries on the story and gives the reader a second installment of an epic trilogy.
The novel features a mixture of real and fictional characters, during the story, we read of events with Fidel Castro and Lee Harvey Oswald.
The central character is Penn Cage, "Mr. Mayor." He is an attorney and was formerly a district attorney in Houston. To Penn, family is the most important element. When his wife, Sarah, died at a young age, it brought Penn and his little daughter, Annie, close together. In fact, it is Annie who feels protective about Penn.
Penn's father, Dr. Tom Cage, has been in medical practice for nearly fifty years. In the deeply segregated town of Natchez, Mississippi, he treats everyone alike. He's even helped a number of black patients who were being sought by members of the Klan. Dr. Cage He's loved by many of his patients and, being a former combat medic in Korea, he doesn't back down from a fight.
Penn is engaged to Caitlin Masters, the editor of "Natchez Examiner." She's recently discovered that she's expecting a child but that doesn't slow her down in seeking a good story.
The Double Eagles is a breakaway KKK group. They're made up of a number of vicious men who are militant separatists. The have a past they would like to remain hidden and don't like Penn and Caitlin digging into past murders in Natchez.
Tom Cage is on the run from the police because he's accused of killing his former nurse, Viola Thomas. She is dying of cancer and came back to Natchez to die. Her son, a disbarred attorney from Chicago, accuses Tom of murder and, as a result, the legal authorities are looking for Tom.
Beneath everything else was the Double Eagle plan to assassinate JFK. Not to give away plot, but the FBI is looking into this part of the story.
Gres Isles is a story teller above all else. He's able to weave the segments of this novel together into a suspenseful plot. I enjoyed the story and the chase for the evidence about these former Klan members.
It's also a timely story in that the black community is treated like second class citizens and the crimes against them are often ignored.
At over 800 pages, I felt the story could have benefitted from tightening up the plot and not having so many details and fillers about JFK and RFK and their dislike for a New Orleans Mob figure and their desire to deport this crime lord.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Bone Tree, The”.)
Full Tilt (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-05-03)
Ready for a page turner with excellent suspense and supersonic tension? Rick Morina's "Full Tilt" is right on the money.
Kate Page is a reporter with "Newslead," the newswire service. The agony of her sister, Vanessa's loss is with her every day. Kate was with Vanessa when their foster parent's car flipped over and crashed into a river. Their foster parents were killed and little Vanessa's hand slipped through seven-year-old Kate's frozen fingers and Vanessa was carried downstream. Her body was never found.
Kate has a renewed sense of loss whenever she would speak to grieving parents in the process of her work.
One day, she gets a call from police in upstate New York. An item of jewelry has been found that Kate described to the Children Searchlight Network. A police department upstate found the item, a Guardian Angel chain. They want Kate to identify it if it's the same one she described her sister as having.
What is important about the chain? Kate's parents gave one to each of the girls with their names engraved on the charms. Since Kate began work at "Newslead," Kate has specialized in stories of missing persons, serial killers and runaway children.
Kate travels upstate and identifies her sister's charm. two bodies had been found, one was a woman badly burned and a man with a suicide note. This opened an official investigation when there are complications regarding the suicide note.
What results is a manhunt as more victims are discovered. Each victim is another person Kate fears might be Vanessa. When it isn't, she feels sorry for the victim's family's loss and Kate fears that the time to save Vanessa or mourn her death, is near.
A terrific novel but with over one hundred characters, it was a task to keep track of who they all were and how they were important to the story.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Full Tilt”.)
Grant of Immunity (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-28)
Did you ever wonder about the background of some of the judges who pass judgment on others?
In "Grant of Immunity" Danny Hart was a teenager who was talked into joining his friend Snake for a night of fun. Danny was age fifteen. He used to babysit for the two little children of Snake's girlfriend, Sarah. On this night, Snake was showing off and after smoking a bit of weed, things got rough. Snake made sexual demands of Sarah and Danny wanted no part of it but Snake threatened to cut her if Danny didn't agree. By the end of the night, Sarah had been murdered by Snake and he had a knife with Danny's prints on it.
Years later, Jake is a Marine vet and had worked for the Chilean secret police. He has joined the police department and is a sergeant in the patrol department using his position to demonstrate power and make women submit to his cruel desires. He pulls women over for minor or made up traffic violations and then forces them to do what he wants.
The reader hopes someone will stand up to him but his victims are chosen for their submissiveness and are intimidated. We have seen crooked police on the TV show, The Shield and are familiar with some characters in Joseph Wambaugh novels so the reader doesn't know what to expect.
Not to reveal plot, Snake (John Babbage) finally picks a woman to exercise his power over but after beginning to have his way with her, he gets a radio call from the department and has to leave.
Later, this person reports him and the drama boosts up.
A case goes to court and Danny Hart is now a judge and he and Babbage have a confrontation.
The plot is very realistic and the author who has over fifteen years of judicial experience, weaves an exciting, fast moving and realistic plot that is hard to put down.
In a case of good against evil, Hart takes a stand but how will he come out of this? The courtroom action and the behind the scenes moves by the prosecution and defense make this a story that will be hard to put down. The ending took a bit to reach the finale but otherwise I felt that this was an excellent read and totally recommend it.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Grant of Immunity”.)
Son, The (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-27)
Last year I listened to "The Son" on audiobook and found the story unique and addictive. When my book group decided on that book for their next read, I decided to read it and compare it to the audiobook.
The audiobook is narrated by Gildart Jackson who has a slow and deadly pace as the story is revealed, almost as if Alfred Hitchcock was explaining one of his complicated plots.
Reading the story after listening to it only heightened my enjoyment. I could visualize what was going to happen but dwell in the literary descriptions and pacing of story.
After his father's suicide and the publicity that his father was a corrupt cop, Sonny Loftus spent over twelve years in prison after confessing to a number of murders. His only payoff was that he wanted to be supplied with heroin. When another prisoner informs him that his father wasn't corrupt and he only wrote the suicide note to protect Sonny and his mother, Sonny goes cold turkey, breaks out of prison and goes on a vengeful rampage seeking out the people who really murdered the people Sonny took the blame for.
Simon Kefas is a senior police official in the Oslo Homicide Squad. He is the lead investigator in search for Sonny and was Sonny's father's best friend. Simon is a finely developed character with a great love of his wife, Else, who is in need of an eye operation to save her sight.
There are complications and surprises and the events of the story come to light. The crime scene in Oslo is also brought to life as we see the criminals and their power but then step by step, Sonny Loftus seeks out the various crime lords and takes his revenge.
Well done, powerfully written and a deep and gratifying read.
(This review refers to the 2014 version titled “Son, The”)
Dreaming of the Bones (1997) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-21)
Deborah Crombie provides her fans a mystery that spans all the way back to WWI.
The intricate story tells of Lydia Brooke, a poet. When she was a student at Cambridge in the 1960s, she emulated her namesake, Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke.
Lydia died five years prior to the events in this story. Her death was attributed to suicide.
Dr. Vic McClellan, Duncan Kincaid's former wife, calls him out of the blue and asks for his help. Duncan and his lover, Gemma Jones, have a comfortable life together. Duncan is a police superintendent at Scotland Yard and Gemma is a police sergeant there.
Gemma is a bit uncomfortable with Duncan seeing his former wife but doesn't say anything. While Duncan hadn't heard from Vic since she walked out on him twelve years ago, he agrees to help.
When he does, the fun begins. The complexity winds up and the literary characters jump out of the page.
Vic is doing a biography on Lydia and something about her death doesn't seem right. She wants Duncan to look at the case.
Although it's not in Duncan's district and he takes vacation to investigate, the facts begin to unravel.
There is a major surprise and a list of characters who might be guilty of murder. Alfred Hitchcock would be watering at the mouth thinking about directing this novel as a movie.
We visit the historical times back to WWI when Rupert Brooke died in 1915. Crumbie tells us that Brooke never saw action during the war. He died of blood poisoning at Division Field Day and when Churchill and other officials read his sonnets about the war, they thought he'd make a good martyr.
There is good insight into the character of Lydia through the newsy letters she writes to her mother.
Overall, interesting, an excellent police procedural and as Duncan and Emma examine the suspects, it is a story that captivates the reader.
(This review refers to the 1997 version titled “Dreaming of the Bones”)
Girl on the Train, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-21)
Rachel Watson is a creature of habit, taking the Ashbury-Euston train toward London daily. She doesn't have much of a life of her own so watches other people and imagines what they must be like and what they might be doing.
The story is told in three voices, Rachel, Anna and Megan. It also moves back and forth through time periods.
As Rachel is the central character, we view much of the action through her eyes. She is an alcoholic and obsessive about her former husband, Tom and Tom's wife Anna and their child. She calls them constantly, even late at night and then hangs up the phone.
Tom had an affair with Anna when still married to Rachel, then divorced Rachel and became the father to Evie.
Even though Rachel has lost her job, she still rides the train daily and while doing so, watches the lives of others and wonders what they might be doing. One couple she watches lives a few doors down the street from Tom and Anna.
When a character goes missing, Rachel becomes involved in the investigation. Jess is one of the characters who Rachel watches and is really Megan.
There have been many comparisons of this book to "Gone Girl." Stephen King has purchased the rights for Dreamworld.
I felt that the book was confusing, being narrated by three people. I also didn't find any of the characters likable or characters that I wanted to learn more about. Rachel, in particular, with her blackouts, her alcoholism and her decision making was very unlikable and hard for me to believe.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Girl on the Train, The”.)
(This review refers to the 1927 version titled “Men Without Women”)
PRIMAL FURY (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-18)
Beautiful young women, believing that they are going to modeling opportunities are kidnapped and sold into slavery.
PRIMAL is an organization that his "...hell-bent on bringing justice to those who have evaded it." They are funded by a benefactor who is the CEO of a billion dollar logistics empire.
PRIMAL has a small group of operatives and uses the latest in technology and weaponry to bring down their opponents. Think of a team with four James Bond's.
The edge of seat action in "PRIMAL Fury" is thrilling as this small group of operatives is pitted against the Mori-Kai. The Mori-Kai is one of Japan's most ruthless and deadly families. They are behind the smuggling ring abducting the girls.
We follow the action of two of the abducted girls who are from Croatia. It seems cruel to see a young person's dreams bashed as these two women, like the others, thought they were going to a life as models with lots of glamour.
Karla, the younger sister is just seventeen. She seems particularly vulnerable. William Kurtz, a PRIMAL operative is stymied numerous times as he attempts to rescue her. When he first met Karla, Kurtz became emotionally connected to her and his over enthusiastic attempts at rescue almost spoil a number of situations.
The PRIMAL mission is to search for the smugglers' headquarters, rescue the young women and destroy the organization.
The action sizzles as it moves along. The odds seem against the forces of PRIMAL but with their bravery and superior technology, they overcome.
(This review refers to the expression titled “PRIMAL FURY”.)
Crash and Burn (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-14)
Welcome to the world of brain injured Nicky Frank. Her car sails off the road and crashes into a ravine. Then she clamors out of the car, surrounded by broken glass and the smell of Glenlivet Scotch. Nicky reaches the highway and when help arrives, all she can think of is 'Where's Viro?"
Nicky's story is the center of the book. It's packed with as many surprises as a carton of Crackerjax. The first bombshell comes when police Sergeant Wyatt Foster and Detective Kevin Santos attempt to question Nicky's husband Thomas. When they ask about his child, Vero, Thomas laughs and tells them that they have no children. He adds that Nicky has had a number of brain injuries and as a result, her memory is unsound and she often gets mixed up.
Sgt. Foster has been in a relationship with Tessa Leoni who works with Northridge Investigations. Foster learns that Nicky has contacted them to help find a woman who was a key to her past. They also begin to doubt the veracity of Thomas's responses to their questions.
The story's pacing is excellent as, with Wyatt and Kevin help her remember things from her past. Tessa also helps and becomes an advocate for Nicky. It is during this time that Thomas disappears.
Nicky is determined to learn about her past while dealing with her traumatic brain injury.
The fast moving psychological thriller will keep the reader going while trying to discover what really happened in Nicky's past and the real story behind Nicky and Thomas's relationship.
With a contemporary theme of dealing with traumatic brain injuries, the reader learns how hard it is to deal with this invisible malady and empathy builds for those attempting to cope with it.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Crash and Burn”.)
Cold Betrayal (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-12)
When a young pregnant woman is hit by a car near Flagstaff, Arizona, she's brought to the hospital and opens up a hidden world where a religious cult was active.
At the hospital is Sister Anselm, a patient advocate who deeply cares for those who don't have a voice in their own behalf. The woman gives birth but both she and her daughter are in critical condition.
Before lapsing into unconsciousness, the defenseless woman pleads with the young man who drove the care that hit her accidentally, please don't let them take me back.
With this plea, Sister Anselm stays at Enid's side and tells her friend, Ali Reynolds, who is police academy trained and works at her husband's computer technology company.
Both Ali and Sister Anselm are there when a confrontation occurs by two authoritative men from The Family who have come to bring Enid and her daughter back. This was an excellent scene that is well described by the author, J.A. Jance.
The story continues and we observe the manner in which the man at the cult treat their wives and how certain young girls disappear in the middle of the night.
As this goes on, a parallel story involves a senior citizen, Betsy Peterson who is awakened by her dog one night and finds the gas has been turned on in her stove. If the dog hadn't awakened Betsy, she might have been killed. Betsy is the grandmother of Athena who is Ali's daughter-in-law.
With two dramatic story lines, the action moves nicely and the characters are well described and easy to root for. It's easy for the reader to feel empathy for both and both parts of the story treat meaningful situations in today's society, elder abuse and human trafficking along with religious cults who go to the extremes in their treatment of the people under their spell.
J.A. Jance is an excellent author and knows how to tell a compelling story. I didn't want this story to end because it was so good but I did want to see the villains get what was coming to them.
The novel is skillfully plotted and recommended. Don't miss it.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Cold Betrayal”.)
At the Water's Edge (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-08)
Sara Gruen's new novel mixes history with a moving love story.
Ellis and Maddie Hyde are at Ellis's parents house and we see the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party where Ellis and Maddie embarrassed everyone there.
When Ellis's parents call him out on this the discussion gets very personal and something is said that causes Ellia's father to demand that he and Maddie leave their home.
In response, they travel to Scotland with Ellis's side kick, Hank. They are resolved to find the Loch Ness Monster and prove that an endeavor in which Ellis's father, Col Whitney Hyde, was involved in, was worthwhile.
The setting is in 1942 and the trip to Scotland is harrowing as German U Boats sink a ship their liberty ship was traveling with. When Maddie and Ellis see the injured seamen who are rescued, instead of compassion, they are horrified.
Ellis is a spoiled son of a wealthy family. He cares for little other than his own enjoyment and he's hooked on alcohol and pills. He got out of serving in the War due to being color blind. Through much of the story, Maddie wonders if he was faking it.
In Scotland, the party stays at The Fraser Arms where they meet Angus Grant. From this moment on, the story takes on a romantic quality. It's almost out of old English literature where Maddie falls in love with a real man, Angus. He's suffered a double tragedy and the romance builds slowly but beautifully. However, can they make their romance work? Will Ellis stand in their way?
When he sees things aren't going his way, he takes steps to make Maddie suffer.
I enjoyed the story and the manner in which, Maddie, like Scarlett O'Hara became a force of her own, just when the odds were the greatest.
The historical element was also nicely done as the characters at The Fraser Arms gather around the radio and listen to the progress of the war, or they hurry to the air raid shelter along with their gas masks.
Sara Gruen takes her readers on a enjoyable ride as we observe the moral growth of Maddie Hyde. Not up to the excellence of "Water for Elephants," but still and enjoyable book that Gruen's fans will enjoy.
Fever Tree, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-08)
Frances Irvine's life is shattered when her father dies suddenly and leaves her penniless in London in 1880. She depended upon her father and is lost without him.
She faces moving to her aunt's home and being treated as a nurse and maid for her condescending aunt's five children or emigrating to South Africa where her cousin has asked her to marry him.
Frances isn't in love with her cousin but can't see living with her aunt in Manchester. On the boat to The Cape, she's seduced by William Westbrook, a Machiavellian who promises to marry once they arrive in South Africa.
Upon arrival, Frances is stood up by Westbrook and learns that he's engaged to another. Saddened and alone, she travels the rest of the way to the farm where her cousin Edwin lives. It's is a desolate area and Edwin is gone much of the time, providing smallpox vaccinations.
Frances grows tired of this existence and on a trip to the city, she meets Westbrook again and he informs her of events in his life and that he still loves her and wants her to travel to Johannesburg with him as soon as he gets enough money from the diamonds he's illegally purchasing.
Frances has to choose between the two men and the remainder of the story tells of her choice and the consequences of it.
There is a very good portrayal of live in the Cape, with wealthy diamond miners refusing to believe that the smallpox is spreading for fear that the natives working in the mines will desert them. It is visually described and I feel that it would make an excellent movie.
The supporting cast is well described and that makes much of the book more interesting as Frances visits hospitals and tames a zebra and begins to become accustomed to the life.
(This review refers to the expression titled “Fever Tree, The”.)