Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thicker Than Water

Thicker Than Water by Maggie Shayne

It was called a haven for runaway teens. In truth, it was a nightmare, one that ended in a fiery violence sixteen years ago. Or so its survivors believed…

Syracuse news anchor Julie Jones is afraid. Her long-dead past was resurrected when a blackmailer threatened to expose secrets that could destroy her. Then the man was found dead—his throat cut with a knife from Julie’s own kitchen. Now a new, faceless enemy wants more than money. This time Julie stands to lose the most precious thing of all—her teenaged daughter, Dawn.

Julie finds herself with one unlikely ally, Sean MacKenzie. A journalist with a flair for the sensational, Sean covers the worst humanity has to offer. Julie Jones I hiding something that terrifies her, and he’s determined to find out what. He just can’t decide whether his goal is to expose her or save her.

Julie will do anything to protect her daughter. But someone else is watching, willing to do whatever it takes to avenge a past that cannot be forgotten.

--Thicker Than Water by Maggie Shayne, Copyright ©2003 by Margaret Benson, published by Mira Books

My Review

Blackmail is an ugly thing. Even uglier when you’re the one being blackmailed.

Julie Jones, respected Syracuse television news anchor, knows that fact all too well. But she’s had enough. She’s not going to pay her blackmailer any more, no matter what happens. But when she steps out of the bathroom of her blackmailer’s hotel room to deliver the bad news, she finds him dead on the floor. Someone managed to sneak into the room while she was in the bathroom and stabbed Harry Blackwood to death.

She makes her escape but in her haste, dropped her keys. She bluffs her way past the cops and manages to find a way to make the appearance of her keys plausible. But do they, or her new co-anchor, Sean MacKenzie believe her?

Sean and Julie have a special kind of chemistry between them, one that works well on the television screen but not so well in real life. Or does it? Sean’s attracted to Julie despite what his instincts are telling him. They’re telling him the lady has something to hide, and being the reporter he is, he wants to dig and find the answers. She’s connected to the dead man and he’s going to find out what that connection is.

Meanwhile, they have another story to work on, a human interest-type regarding renown seer and psychic Nathan Z. Julie’s daughter, Dawn, idolizes the seer and goes with Julie and Sean to a taping of one of his shows. Julie is shocked to realize Nathan Z is actually Mordecai Young, the leader of a “cult” she had briefly been a member of. Young died years earlier when the compound was raided by the FBI, or so she and everyone else in the world thought. But he managed to survive and there’s something he wants.

His daughter.

Julie’s daughter.

Julie would move heaven and earth to protect Dawn from Young. Can she trust Sean enough to accept his help when she is still suspicious of his true motives?

I give this story THREE STARS.

The Hard Way

The Hard Way by Lee Child

Jack Reacher was alone, the way he liked it, soaking up the hot, electric New York City night, watching a man cross the street to a parked Mercedes and drive it away. The car contained one million dollars in ransom money because Edward Lane, the man who paid it, would do anything to get his family back.

Lane runs a highly illegal soldiers-for-hire operation. He will use any tool to find his beautiful wife and child. And Jack Reacher is the best manhunter in the world.

On the trail of vicious kidnappers, Reacher learns the chilling secrets of his employer’s past . . . and of a horrific drama in the heart of a nasty little war. He knows that Edward Lane is hiding something. Something dirty. Something big. But Reacher also knows this: He’s already in way too deep to stop now. And if he has to do it the hard way, he will.

--The Hard Way by Lee Child, Copyright ©2006 by Lee Child

My Review

The Hard Way is the 10th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

It was just another night at a sidewalk café in New York City. Reacher was enjoying a cup of coffee when he saw a man cross the street, enter a car, and drive away. That’s all. Nothing special. But very significant.

The following night at the same café (the coffee was very good), a stranger approaches Reacher. Did you see a man enter a car and drive off? You did? My name is Gregory. I need you to come with me and describe him to my boss.

And so begins another Jack Reacher adventure.

Upon arriving at an apartment in The Dakota, Reacher meets Gregory’s boss, Edward Lane. After some fishing on both sides, Reacher finds out exactly what he witnessed. Lane’s wife and step-daughter were kidnapped and the ransom money was in that car. Unfortunately, Reacher can’t give much of a description because he never really saw the driver’s face. He does, however, agree to help Lane out. You might say women and children in danger are Reacher’s hot button issues. He can’t help wanting to solve their problems.

He tells Lane the kidnappers will call again, this time for more money. Lane and his men are skeptical, but eventually the phone rings with a demand for more money, five million this time. Lane pays. Reacher says the next call will demand ten million. The phone rings. They want more money, but this time, they’re asking for four and a half million. Ten and a half all together. The figure bothers Reacher. What’s the significance behind the number?

Reacher finds out Lane and his men are mercenaries and they’ve done some work for the Pentagon. A few years ago he and his men did a job in Burkina Faso, but two men didn’t return from that assignment. Now that he has a lead, Reacher knows what to do. Because one of the two men left behind died in Burkina Faso, the other returned to America. And 10.5 million is exactly half of the payment Lane received for the Burkina Faso job.

So is this a case of the man left behind seeking compensation? Or is there something else going on that Reacher doesn’t know about…yet? Because Reacher won’t stop until he finds the truth…all of it.

Another great Jack Reacher story, but I have to admit, there was … something … about this one that felt off to me. It was everything I’d come to expect with all the twists, turns and fabulous action of a classic Lee Child novel, but I think I’m becoming too used to his style. You see, I knew from the beginning that there was going to be more behind the kidnapping than just the straightforward facts and that two seemingly unrelated events were going to be tied together the obvious way and a more obscure way that Reacher has to dig out. That’s been the pattern of most if not all the Jack Reacher novels, so maybe that’s my problem. I guess I’ll just have to deal with it because I can’t wait to start the next book.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Monday, April 18, 2011

One Shot

One Shot by Lee Child

Six shots. Five dead. One heartland city thrown into a state of terror. But within hours the cops have it solved: a slam-dunk case. Except for one thing. The accused man says: You got the wrong guy. Then he says: Get Reacher for me.

And sure enough, ex—military investigator Jack Reacher is coming. He knows this shooter–a trained military sniper who never should have missed a shot. Reacher is certain something is not right–and soon the slam-dunk case explodes.

Now Reacher is teamed with a beautiful young defense lawyer, moving closer to the unseen enemy who is pulling the strings. Reacher knows that no two opponents are created equal. This one has come to the heartland from his own kind of hell. And Reacher knows that the only way to take him down is to match his ruthlessness and cunning–and then beat him shot for shot.
--One Shot by Lee Child, Copyright ©2005 by Lee Child, published by Bantam Dell

My Review

A man walks into an empty parking garage on a Friday evening and, with his sniper rifle, calmly shoots five people, then disappears before the police can even be called. The evidence left behind on the scene is collected, analyzed, and just six hours later, the gunman, James Barr, is arrested. A slam-dunk case.

Except…the man arrested says he didn’t do it and makes one request. “Get Jack Reacher for me.” The defense team starts looking, but Jack Reacher is no where to be found. He doesn’t have an address, a telephone number, doesn’t file taxes or own a car. How can they find someone that doesn’t seem to exist?

But Reacher does exist, and he’s already on his way. And when he arrives, he stuns Barr’s sister by declaring he’s not there to help James. He’s there to bury him.

Only…as Reacher reviews the evidence, he begins to find problems. Little things that no one else seems to notice or question. But Reacher notices. And as he digs deeper he comes to the conclusion that Barr indeed didn’t do it.

But if he didn’t, who did? And why did they do it? And why are they framing Barr? What’s the purpose behind the assassination of five innocent, unrelated individuals?

These are the questions Reacher must answer, before he becomes the next victim.

For those of you who have read through my reviews (and if you haven’t why not?), you’ll notice this is a repeat. Because I am reading all of the Lee Child/Jack Reacher novels from the beginning of the series, I couldn’t skip over this one, even though I read it for the first time less than a year ago. I can honestly say I only half enjoyed this re-read, because I knew how the story would go but I still enjoyed all the intricate details that make up a Lee Child novel.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Enemy

The Enemy by Lee Child

Jack Reacher. Hero. Loner. Soldier. Soldier’s son.

An elite military cop, he was one of the army’s brightest stars. But in every cop’s life there is a turning point. One case. One messy, tangled case that can shatter a career. Turn a lawman into a renegade. And make him question words like honor, valor, and duty. For Jack Reacher, this is that case.

New Year’s Day, 1990. The Berlin Wall is coming down. The world is changing. And in a North Carolina “hot-sheets” motel, a two-star general is found dead. His briefcase is missing. Nobody knows what was in it. Within minutes Jack Reacher has his orders: Control the situation. But this situation can’t be controlled. Within hours the general’s wife is murdered hundreds of miles away. Then the dominoes really start to fall. Two Special Forces soldiers—the toughest of the tough—are taken down, one at a time. Top military commanders are moved from place to place in a bizarre game of chess. And somewhere inside the vast worldwide fortress that is the U.S. Army, Jack Reacher—an ordinarily untouchable investigator for the 110th Special Unit—is being set up as a fall guy with the worst enemies a man can have.

But Reacher won’t quit. He’s fighting a new kind of war. And he’s taking a young female lieutenant with him on a deadly hunt that leads them from the ragged edges of a rural army post to the winding streets of Paris to a confrontation with an enemy he didn’t know he had. With his French-born mother dying—and divulging to her son one last, stunning secret—Reacher is forced to question everything he once believed…about his family, his career, his loyalties—and himself. Because this soldier’s son is on his way into the darkness, where he finds a tangled drama of desperate desires and violent death—and a conspiracy more chilling, ingenious, and treacherous than anyone could have guessed.

--The Enemy by Lee Child, Copyright ©2004 by Lee Child, published by Delacorte Press

My Review

The Enemy is the 8th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

Come back in time to 1990 and learn a bit about Jack Reacher’s past. A few days before New Year’s, he was in Panama, working to help bring down Noriega and watching the Germans tear down the Berlin Wall when he gets orders from his boss, Colonel Leon Garber, transferring him to Fort Bird, North Carolina. He doesn’t know why he, one of the top cops in the Army, was transferred to a quiet post in North Carolina where nothing’s happening. He’s still trying to figure it out when, less than an hour into the New Year, he receives a phone call from the local civilian cops. An officer has died in a seedy, pay-by-the-hour motel, what do you want to do?

At first, Reacher doesn’t want to do anything. The officer obviously paid for the night’s company and had a heart attack in the middle of the action (what a way to go, right?). Let the civilians take care of it—after all, it happened on their turf. Then he finds out the officer is a two-star general just in from West Germany on a layover to Fort Irwin, California. Now he needs to get involved in protecting the general’s and the Army’s reputation.

He recruits Lieutenant Summer, a female officer, to go with him to the general’s wife’s home in Green Valley, Virginia, to let her know of her husband’s death. They arrive at her home…and find her dead. A burglary gone bad from the looks of it. They inform the local cops and return to Fort Bird to resume their cover-up of the circumstances in the general’s death.

It seems like a straight-forward task until Reacher realizes the general’s briefcase is missing. And a two-star would never travel without a briefcase, even if there was nothing in there but yesterday’s newspaper. He also finds it odd that the general would fly into Washington Dulles from Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, drive all the way down to North Carolina to spend the night, then (plan to) drive to Washington National to catch a flight to California and not even stop in to see his wife. It doesn’t compute, unless there was a special reason to spend the night in North Carolina. Reacher wants to know what that reason was, but the general’s travel companions—who themselves stayed in a D.C. hotel—aren’t saying. The missing briefcase and the Fort Irwin meeting agenda are the vital key in this mystery, he’s certain of that. If only he could find them.

Another phone call and another dead body. This time, it’s a soldier and he was killed on base. From the looks of it, it was a hate crime—the dead soldier was gay. A few hours later, Reacher finds out about another dead soldier in Columbia, South Carolina.

In the midst of covering up what needs to be covered up and trying to figure out exactly what went wrong for the general, the local guy and the one in Columbia, Reacher receives a call from his brother, Joe. Their mother, who lives in Paris, has broken her leg. They need to go see her. Reacher leaves a message with Garber’s office, meets his brother at Dulles and flies to Paris.

Reunited with their mother, they find out she has more than just a broken leg. She has cancer, and it’s too late to do anything about it. She has one request, and that is to spend the day with her sons. They oblige, of course, talking about old times and sharing adventures. The next day, they return to the US…where Reacher is promptly arrested. Seems he’s gone AWOL. How can I be AWOL, he asks. I called Garber’s office. Yes, but Garber’s been posted to Korea and Reacher’s new boss, Colonel Willard, did not give him permission to leave his post.

Details, details.

Reacher doesn’t like Willard from the start and sets about letting him know it. Willard wants him to back off the local guy’s death, officially classifying it as a training accident, the general simply died of a heart attack and he has no jurisdiction over the body in Columbia, but Reacher, being Reacher smells a connection between the deaths. With Lieutenant Summer’s help, he goes about disobeying orders and doing what he does best, putting everything on the line to get to the heart of the matter, even if it means he may wind up at Fort Leavenworth.

I give this story FIVE STARS.

Honestly, I wanted to turn the dial up to eleven. This is, so far, my absolute favorite book of the series.

I’m an Army brat, so I don’t know if I’d feel the same about Reacher if he had been in the Navy, Air Force (sorry, Mike!) or the Marines. But he was Army, so I have to love the guy. And while I may not know as much about Army life as a soldier would, the things I do know (and the things I don’t even realize I know) Child got absolutely spot-on right. His depth of knowledge and the accuracy of his research into the minutiae of the Army left me stunned. I am simply in awe of Lee Child and the writer in me wishes I could study at his feet.

Okay, that’s enough hero worship.

Now, I’ve already read the next book in the series, One Shot (here’s the review I wrote last year) and it wasn’t so long ago that I’ve forgotten what the story was about, so my question is, do I listen to the audio version next or skip it and go on to The Hard Way?

…pfft, as if there was any question I wouldn’t re-read one of his books!

The Arcanum

The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler

Plunge into an age when genius and madness walked hand in hand. The year is 1919 and the Great War has come to a close. But in the shadows of the world’s major cities, the killing has just begun. In this perilous time, as the division between order and chaos grows increasingly slim, a select group of visionaries have sworn to vanquish evil and ensure the safety of humanity. They are Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest magician; notorious voodoo princess Marie Laveau; weird-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft; and the ingenious Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Together, they are known as The Arcanum.

--The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler, Copyright ©2004 by Thomas Wheeler, published by Bantam Books

My Review

The year is 1919, the place is London, England, and Konstantine Duvall has died, hit by a drunk driver. An accident, the police say. There was a horrible fog around the London Museum, the driver couldn’t see, the man shouldn’t have been walking in the street.

But Konstantin Duvall was no ordinary man, and when the great writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learns of his death, he fears the worst. For Duvall was the keeper of a great number of secrets and one of those secrets is lost. The Book of Enoch, a “lost” book of the Bible, was in Duvall’s care and now it is missing. Doyle must find it, and quickly.

He travels to New York City to reunite his friends, Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, Marie Laveau (fortunately, she heeded her own visions and traveled to New York, saving Doyle a trip to Louisiana), the former members of the Arcanum, Investigators of the Extraordinary, to find the book. But it’s not as simple as he’d like it to be, for there are others who covet the book and would use it for their own purposes.

A great evil is stirring in New York and the Arcanum quickly find themselves enmeshed in it. Can they all survive, can they all remain sane, to see their great task through to the end?

I loved the premise of this story, that these great figures of the early 20th century could be part of some secret society and they would band together to save the world, but as the story progressed, I got more and more bored with it. Had I known the occult would play such a heavy part in the plot, I would never have bought the book (though I suppose Marie Laveau’s name on the back cover should have been a giveaway). Even discounting that element, I found the book difficult to read as the action cut from one character to the other, hosts of new characters are added when it’s convenient to add them (and I couldn’t tell if some of those characters were real people, like Aleister Crowley, or made up for the story, like Darian DeMarcus), and places and events I’m unfamiliar with are discussed. If you’re a historian familiar with this time in history, perhaps you would have an easier time following the action. I got lost so many times I nearly gave up on this book half way through. But I persisted and finished.

I will say I do like how it ended, with Lovecraft putting one over on Crowley and the others elevating Lovecraft’s status. Well done you, Howard.

There are a number of laudable quotes on the back and just inside the front cover, so obviously this book has an audience. I, unfortunately, should never have been a member of that audience.

I give this story ONE STAR.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kindred in Death

Kindred in Death by J.D. Robb

When the newly promoted captain of the NYPSD and his wife return a day early from their vacation, they are looking forward to spending time with their bright and vivacious sixteen-year-old daughter, who stayed behind.

Not even their worst nightmares could prepare them for the crime scene that awaits them instead. Deena has been brutally murdered in her bedroom, and her body shows signs of trauma that horrify even the toughest of cops, including our own Lieutenant Eve Dallas, who is specifically requested by the captain to investigate.

When the evidence starts to pile up, Dallas and her team think they are about to arrest their perpetrator; little do they know that someone has gone to great lengths to tease and taunt them by using a variety of identities.

Overconfidence can lead to careless mistakes. But for Dallas, one mistake might be all she needs to serve justice.

--Kindred in Death by J.D. Robb, Copyright ©2009 by J.D. Robb, published by Penguin Books

My Review

Kindred in Death starts as all of the In Death books do…with murder. This time, it’s young Deena McMasters. Someone managed to get access to her home, and to her, to carry out the bloody, horrific crime. When her parents return home from vacation, they find her body, and her father, NYPSD Captain McMasters specifically requests Lieutenant Eve Dallas as primary.

Dallas and her partner, Detective Delia Peabody, hit the ground running. In speaking with her best friend, she finds out Deena had a secret boyfriend who wasn’t all he claimed to be. He said he was a student at Columbia, a story Dallas quickly disproves. What else wasn’t he, she wonders, and quickly set out finding this Columbia-student-impostor.

As Dallas digs, she finds a startling motive and a strange reflection back to her own past. There’s no connection, but the similarities are unnerving, and that just makes Dallas want to put an end to the murder’s plans even more.

She’s hot on his trail, but not before he manages to claim another victim. The McMasters family is planning a memorial for Deena and Dallas knows her egotistical murder won’t resist the opportunity to make an appearance. Can Dallas apprehend her prey before he gets away to kill again?

The more I read J.D. Robb's stories, the more they begin to sound the same and the more I can predict what will happen next. In this story, as soon as the memorial service was announced, I knew Dallas would set up an operation to take down their main suspect at the service. But I also knew that he would somehow get away and they would make their grab at the third victim's home. And I was right. My interest in the series is evidence, consider that Kindred in Death came out in late 2009 and I only just now read it. I have the next in the series, Indulgence in Death but I'm not sure I'm going to buy the latest, Treachery in Death. I may wait until it comes out in paperback...we'll see.

I give this story THREE STARS.