Thursday, December 18, 2014

NIGHT IS THE HUNTER by STEVEN GORE

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This is my second Steven Gore novel but won't be my last.  His hero, Harlan Donnally, is a cerebral former cop with a highly developed sense of right and wrong.  Add in a pinch of action and danger and you have a satisfying read with a great story and characters who actually think about important issues.

Israel Dominguez is the subject of the plot in this one.  He has spent 20 years on death row for the murder of a gang rival.  Now he is nearing execution and the judge who presided at his original trial has admitted his doubts to his friend Donnally that Dominguez was actually guilty. Gang wars and the passing of time haven't cleared up anything of what happened, but Judge McMullin can't bear to just let it go.  

An alternate plot line concerns dementia.  Donnally's fater, a Hollywood producer familiar to anyone who has read earlier books, is showing signs of it and so is Judge McMullin.  As each faces the inevitable in his own way, the emotional toll on Donnally gives this story depth that you normally don't find in a mystery novel.  I like the relationship between Donnally and his girlfriend as well.  This is an adult committed partnership not based on lust, but not lacking it either.

I really must read Gore's other novels.  This is an author who provides thoughtful plots and characters to engage my mind.

Highly recommended
Source:  LibraryThing win

Friday, December 5, 2014

FLESH AND BLOOD by PATRICIA CORNWELL

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I've been reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series for many years.  I feel like I know Scarpetta and the other regular characters personally so I always look forward to their next adventure. One of the characters though has always stretched my powers of belief too far. Scarpetta's niece Lucy is just too brilliant, too rich, too strong, too everything.  Everyone else has faults that make them believable.  

In Flesh and Blood Lucy is acting strangely and suspiciously, and it begins to look like someone is trying to frame her for a series of murders.  Of course Lucy isn't talking to anyone about her obvious problem so no one can help but Scarpetta is about the only person really confident that Lucy isn't involved in something illegal.

Scarpetta and her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, are scheduled to leave for a Miami vacation when a man is killed in his driveway by a sniper far away.  Investigating this and other murders leads the team to a real estate company run by a politician.  One of the company's employees keeps tailing Kay and Benton and seems to know too much about them, even the condo Benton has rented for their vacation.  No clues are left with the victims except fragments of copper and in one body a complete bullet.  Oddly, someone has placed seven shiny pennies on the wall around Scarpetta's back yard, each dated 1981, the year Lucy was born, and each facing the same way.  Other items at murder scenes also show compulsive behavior.

In the end I was dissatisfied with this novel.  I'm not saying it's a bad book.  I don't think Cornwell could write a bad novel if she worked at it.  What I am saying is that this one is a disappointment.  Scarpetta and Marino are caught in an enormous traffic jam for too long (although since they're in Boston I understand) and are simply getting messages from others about ongoing investigations.  Throughout the story Scarpetta seems not to be part of the action and Benton is obviously keeping secrets from her.

It's an intricate puzzle that took some work on my part to keep up with and in the end I didn't feel like it was all wrapped up.  I didn't feel like Cornwell played fair with the identity of the killer either although I can't say why for fear of a spoiler.  My advice?  If you are a die-hard fan, you'll probably read this one to keep up with the characters but if you aren't, read any other book in the series rather than this one.

Recommended only for Scarpetta fans
Source:  HarperCollins  


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

MATCH PLAY by D MICHAEL POPPE

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Match Play is a debut novel by an artist who is, I believe, a new talent to watch.  Not for the faint-hearted, this novel features an obsessive/compulsive killer who chooses his victims at random, making him that much more difficult to catch.  

The only thing tying his victims and their locations across the U.S. together is the LPGA Tour.  The women he selects are golfers but not the recognizable professional golfers on the tour.  Necessarily, they must live alone.   

The killer has a well-thought-out plan which involves the golf game of match play.  You don't need to know much about golf to understand what he's doing since you'll catch on as he goes along.  It is however creepy enough to make you suspicious of strangers for quite some time. 
I should warn you that mutilation of the victims is a vitally important part of this madman's m.o.

When he learns which FBI agent is leading the investigative team, he turns his activities personal, as in a match play game between the two of them.  The agent, Lou Schein, is frustrated in his attempts to catch the villain before he can kill again.  The reader is head of him all the way and the back story of who the killer is and why he became the man he is makes this an unusual and engrossing novel.

I do hope Poppe will continue to write fiction.  He's trying this later in life than most writers but he has demonstrated an ability to write a compelling plot with well-drawn characters.   

Recommended
Source:  Partners in Crime Book Tours

Saturday, November 29, 2014

ESCAPE THE NIGHT by RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON

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Escape the Night was originally published in 1983 and is now available as an e-book.  I suggest that you add it to your e-book collection but save it for when you have some time to devote to it.  I promise you won't want to put it down for long.  I just had to know what would happen.

The story is about obsession and involves three generations of a family who own a publishing company in Manhattan.  John Peter "Black Jack" Carey is the force who brought control of the company solely into his own hands.  He's ruthless and fiercely devoted to his company.  His wife endures years of emotional abuse but produces two sons, Phillip and Charles.  These sons are prodded into competing with each other for favored status in their father's mind and, most importantly his will.  Phillip, however, is weak and Charles is the golden one.  Also Charles marries a beautiful woman and they have a son, John Peter Carey II, who is practically a clone of his father.  Charles adores him, and in old age so does his father.  Phillip is left as a pathetic also-ran.

The obsession begins when Charles unfortunately comes under the notice of the HUAC because they believe he is publishing leftist writers, and actually he is prescient in recognizing new talented writers who may have ideas that don't exactly mesh with what the HUAC sees as proper.  He doesn't back down but eventually the HUAC backs off, except for the investigator who was assigned to their case.  He is later fired and moves to the CIA where he learns more effective spying techniques.  Another man is obsessed with the company and particularly Black Jack because his father committed suicide due to Black Jack refusing to rehire him.  He is yet another danger.

I may have told a little too much, but I won't tell more because the last thing I want to do is ruin your enjoyment of this intricately plotted, beautifully written novel.  Patterson is best known perhaps for his courtroom dramas and I have loved the ones I've read, but this is totally different.  It is, I think, the best of his work that I have thus far encountered.

The characters, not just the family but the others as well, are portrayed just stereotypically enough to fit the plot and add to the fear factor.  The evil ones are truly evil and one positively insane, but sometimes you know you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the read for what it is.  If you do that, you'll be on tenterhooks for sure.

I read this during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and was prompted to be very thankful that I'm not a member of a powerful family, nor do I have wealth that anyone else would covet.  I'm just a reader who can become involved with a good story and when I'm finished, go on to something else, but only after a little period of relishing what a good story it was.

Highly recommended
Source:  Open Road Media via Netgalley

Friday, November 21, 2014

BOTTICELLI'S BASTARD by STEVEN MAITLAND-LEWIS

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This is a fun read with more than a little history in it.  If the word history puts you off, I hasten to explain that this book is never ever boring.  I'm bursting to tell you what makes it so much fun but that would spoil the read for you, so mum's the word.

The main character in the story is Giovanni Fabrizzi, expert restorer of old paintings.  He learned the skill from his father and in turn passed it on to his son.  The family is of course Italian, but Giovanni is based in London while his son runs the Italian studio.  For decades Giovanni had a beloved studio in an old building in Soho Square but had been forced by his clients' insistence to move into a large, impersonal, secure building where he has to carry a paper that lists all the codes to gain access to his own studio.  Even there, he has to use codes to open up the two storerooms, one housing his current work and the other for other paintings.

In search of a painting that would be an appropriate wedding gift for a client to give his son, Giovanni finds a portrait in a crate that his father had shipped to him some time ago.  The subject turns out to be Count Marco Lorenzo Pietro de Medici.  Yes, those Medici's.  As you can see by the cover, the young man was handsome and proud, perhaps arrogant.  There is a claim that this unsigned portrait was actually painted by Botticelli.

Giovanni's life has been in turmoil ever since his wife died.  She was his true soul-mate and he mourns her every day although she has been gone for several years, and nearly a year ago he had married a much younger, beautiful woman.  His marriage is suffering because of his sadness and he is unable to complete a restoration he has promised by a certain date.

He becomes obsessed with learning the true origin of the portrait.  As he seeks out information we learn about the theft of European art by the Nazi's and how many of the paintings they seized were never returned to the Jewish families who owned them.  We learn the strange story of this particular painting and of its various owners through the years.  But since this is mostly told as stories in conversation, it's never dry reading.  I felt like I was listening to a wonderful storyteller.

Highly recommended
Source:  IRead Tours

Monday, November 17, 2014

BLEEDING KANSAS by SARA PARETSKY

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When I saw Sara Paretsky's name at a book sale, I automatically picked up the book.  I had read all of her V. I. Warshawski series and loved every volume.  This was a stand-alone: I put it in my bag, confident that it would be a great read.  It turned out to have nothing to do with the bleeding Kansas of John Brown and the fight over whether Kansas would be a slave state or free.  Okay, I thought, let's see what it is about and I'm glad I went ahead and read it.

The story concerns a farming community where three families have lived and worked the land for generations.  The Grelliers, Jim, Susan, and their children Chip and Lara, love the land and try to be good neighbors.  The Schapens, Myra the grandmother, Arnie the father whose wife left him, and sons Junior and Robbie are avid adherents of a church that makes fundamentalist churches look downright liberal.  In between the Grelliers and the Schapens is the Fremantle house.  Old Mrs. Fremantle has died and a relative, Gina Haring, moves in.  Haring claims to be wiccan and she brings along her friend, a woman who runs a store in town that sells all kinds of suspicious things connected with wiccans.

Gina Haring's appearance sets off a kind of war.  A lesbian who celebrates strange holiday rituals?  Myra's blog (that everyone reads even if they won't admit it) is full of ridiculous claims. Then a Schapen cow gives birth to a red calf and city ultra-orthodox Jewish elders arrive and say it's the perfect calf for a ceremony to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, the Schapen family has visions of wealth beyond belief.

All of this plus a teenage bully, a handicapped boy, young people in a forbidden love results in an explosive atmosphere that you know will have a bad ending.  As much as I love the V.I. Warshawski series, this is my favorite Sara Paretsky novel.  

Maybe it's because I'm from the Midwest (not Kansas), the characters are familiar ones to me. Well, except for the Schapens who are an exaggeration of midwestern types to make a point. Paretsky grew up in Kansas and she remembers those people clearly.

Highly recommended
Source:  book sale

Saturday, November 15, 2014

TEHRAN AT TWILIGHT by SALAR ABDOH

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Tehran, a city that inspires many emotions in Americans, mostly a mixture of fear and curiosity.  It was the latter that made me enter the LibraryThing contest to win a copy of this novel.  It is written by a man who was born in Iran and currently splits his time between Tehran and New York City where he teaches creative writing.

His hero is Reza Malek, the year is 2008, and Malek's best friend has just asked him to return to Tehran.  Malek is a teacher in NYC who also works in Iran as a translator for media.  He and Sina Vafa went to college together in California where their fathers had taken them to escape the violence of Iran.  From there the two men took opposite paths as Vafa became radicalized. Now Vafa is in over his head and needs Malek's help.  

The story is about the love of friends, and of mothers and sons set against the reality that is Tehran and the streets of New York.  Thanks to his friend, Malek is reunited with his mother who had supposedly run away with a lover when he was a boy.  Also thanks to Vafa, Malek is caught up in the corrupt and frustrating system that passes for government, all the while in danger and trying to get his mother out of the country.

Friends in NYC and politics at the college where he teaches, illustrate that violence lives there too but life is so much better.  Those friends prove to Malek that there is still an American dream to be had. 

This is a rare occasion when I feel my words are inadequate to express what depths exist in Salar Abdoh's fiction.  I felt as though I were with Malek in Tehran and for that matter in NYC as well.  The characters drew me into this exotic story.

Highly recommended
Source:  LibraryThing win