Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Seductive Young Woman Winds Up Pretty Dead in This Thriller from Gerry Boyle

This is another very entertaining entry in this series, featuring reporter Jack McMorrow. McMorrow is a stringer for the New York Times, even though he lives way off the grid in the woods near Prosperity, Maine. But Jack stumbles into a potentially explosive story when his girlfriend, Roxanne, a social worker, is sent to investigate a case of possible child abuse involving a very wealthy and prominent Boston family.

A church worker reports that the child, a little girl, has complained of being locked in a dark closet as punishment and there is bruising on the child's shoulders. Jack drives Roxanne to the couple's vacation mansion in Blue Harbor and waits outside while Roxanne goes in to interview the child and her mother. While Jack is waiting, he is discovered by the child's father, the wealthy and very personable David Connelly.

Connelly invites Jack into the house and before long, both Jack and Roxanne appear to have fallen under the spell of the Connellys. The mother, Maddie, blames the child's abuse on a nanny who has been fired and sent packing. Roxanne will have to chase down the nanny to hear her side of the story, but both she and Jack find the Connellys charming and believable.

The Connellys invite Jack and Roxanne to a party at their luxurious home. One of the other guests is an attractive and very seductive young woman named Angel Moretti. Angel works for the charitable foundation that the Connellys run and seems to have a strange power over the men who work there, David Connelly included.

Shortly thereafter, a body is discovered in the woods not far from Jack's home. As a reporter, he naturally senses a story and goes to the scene. He's shocked when he sees that the victim is Angel Moretti, and her death puts Jack in a very difficult position. As a reporter, he feels obligated to follow the story wherever it leads, but as a new friend of the Connellys, he's reluctant to draw them into what would certainly become a major scandal. As he tries to walk the fine line between his duty to his job and his obligations to his new friends, some seriously dangerous people will attempt to turn him away from the story and Jack will soon discover that he's head over heels in trouble and that he may be dragging Roxanne right along with him.

The books in this series just seem to keep getting better with each new entry. Again, Boyle has written a gripping story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, right up to the powerful climax. An easy four stars.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Joe Pike and Elvis Cole Attempt to Rescue a Young Kidnap Victim in This Novel from Robert Crais

This entry in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series is billed as "An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel," but really it's a Pike novel with Elvis in a supporting role. It opens when Pike makes a routine trip to the bank. As he leaves, he sees two men abduct Isabel Roland, the young teller who has just assisted him, as she walks out of the bank headed to lunch.

Naturally, Pike gives chase and rescues Izzy. The two kidnappers are arrested and briefly jailed, but no sooner are they out than they are found murdered. Pike will be questioned about this but manages to convince the police, at least for the moment, that he was not involved in the killings.

Meanwhile, poor Isabel disappears, and it quickly becomes apparent that she's been kidnapped again. The original kidnappers are dead and so there's obviously a lot going on beneath the surface here. Why would this young bank teller be a target for a group of desperate criminals? Pike calls on Elvis who puts his detective skills to work trying to figure out why anyone would be after Izzy while Joe attempts to rescue her again. And, as often happens in these books, things are going to get pretty bloody and violent before justice is served, Elvis and Joe-style.

This was a fairly light, quick read that seemed to be missing some of the heft and complexity of earlier books in the series. The plot is pretty straightforward and there's plenty of action--an enjoyable read, but in my view, not one of the better books in a long-running series. 3.5 stars sounded up.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Train Trip Across Canada Leads to Trouble in This Novel By Dick Francis

Tor Kelsey is young, single, and independently wealthy, which leaves him free to do virtually whatever he wants. He chooses to work as an undercover agent for the English Jockey Club, ferreting out threats to the English racing world. Kelsey is particularly gifted at disguising himself, blending into whatever circumstances in which he might find himself, and sneaking up on his quarry who never even notice that he's there.

In this case, a thuggish blackmailer named Julius Apollo Filmer has insinuated himself into the world of British racing so cleverly that the Powers That Be have no way of driving him out. Kelsey is assigned to get the needed evidence, which becomes increasingly important when Filmer joins an expedition called the Great Transcontinental Mystery Race.

In this case, the continent in question is North America, and a group of very wealthy and socially prominent owners are taking their horses on a week-long trip across Canada. The trip is designed to promote Canadian horse racing and it will be a very lavish party with some important horse races along the way. Kelsey will join the party on the train masquerading as a waiter, while he attempts to prevent whatever disaster Filmer intends to cause along the way. As always, an attractive woman will enter the picture, and Tor and the woman will do the slow dance leading to romance that is a hallmark of these novels.

The story is okay and will remind the reader in some respects of Agatha Christie's great novel, Murder on the Orient Express. The journey across Canada is interesting, and the scenery along the way is well-described. To my mind, though, this is not among the best of the Dick Francis novels because it lacks the tension that usually exists between the protagonist and the (always) nasty villain. Without giving anything away, the climax of the novel isn't quite up to the author's usual standards and thus this book seems a bit flat compared to many of the others. It's enjoyable, but a three-star read rather than anything more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

LOST TOMORROWS Is another Excellent Novel from Matt Coyle

The sixth entry in Matt Coyle's Rick Cahill series is another very entertaining novel and ties up some of the threads that the author has developed in the earlier books in the series. Cahill is now a P.I. in San Diego, but years earlier, when he was a cop in Santa Barbara, his wife was murdered there. Cahill was the prime suspect in the killing, but there was not enough evidence to charge him and he left Santa Barbara with the reputation of a cop who had gotten away with murder.

Now, Krista Landingham, Rick's former partner on the Santa Barbara force, has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Krista's sister, Leah, invites Cahill to the funeral. Rick figures that he has to go to honor Krista's memory, even though he knows that he's going to face a world of trouble from other Santa Barbara cops who still hate him for allegedly disgracing the department.

Once at the funeral, Leah tells Rick that she believes her sister was murdered, even though the police have classified the case as a hit and run accident. She wants Cahill to investigate, and when he takes the case, Cahill is stunned to learn that just before she died, Krista had reopened the case of his wife's murder.

In Cahill's mind then, his wife's death and that of his former partner are clearly linked, and his investigation into the two killings will take him down a very dark path and entangle him with some very nasty adversaries. Cahill continues to be a very appealing protagonist and, like the others in the series, this book is very well-plotted with lots of action and plenty of twists and turns that will keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. All in all, a very good read.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Jack Reacher Is Hired to Find Assassins Who Are Determined to Kill the VP-Elect in This Thriller from Lee Child

The sixth Jack Reacher novel opens when a woman named M. E. Froelich, who is the Secret Service agent in charge of security for Vice President-Elect Brook Armstrong, asks Reacher to assassinate Armstrong--in theory, of course. Someone has been sending death threats to Armstrong, which have been intercepted by the Secret Service, and Froelich wants Reacher to test the security arrangements that they have designed for the VP-Elect.

Reacher recruits his ex-army sergeant Frances Neagley, and together they demonstrate that a determined, skilled assassin could easily get through the safety net that the Service has erected around Armstrong and kill him with no trouble at all. Properly chagrined, Froelich and her boss then hire Reacher and Neagley to help protect Armstrong and track down the potential assassins.

Reacher's task is complicated by the fact that Froelich was the ex-lover of Reacher's brother, Joe. As readers of the series will remember, Joe Reacher, who worked in the Treasury Department, was killed at the very beginning of the series. Froelich still has unresolved feelings for Joe--she still has his suits hanging in her closet--and some of these feelings may be transferred to Jack.

It's quickly apparent that the would-be assassins are clever and resourceful and that they may be more than a match for Reacher, even with Neagley's help and that of the entire Secret Service. It's a chess match on a large scale, and one that moves like a rocket. There are a lot of great scenes in the book that keep the reader turning the pages rapidly, and it covers a lot of ground, geographically and otherwise. All in all, this may be one of the best books in this series.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Lucas Davenport Chases a Man Eater in this Novel from John Sandford

I've said in previous reviews that I think this long-running series has lost a bit of its luster now that Lucas Davenport has left Minnesota and joined the Marshal's Service, and there's nothing about this book that would lead me to alter my opinion. I continue to believe that Davenport's new running buddies, Bob and Rae, are a pale substitute for the rich characters like Sloan, Del, Shrake and others who inhabited the earlier novels. Additionally, Sandford has long been known for creating complex, interesting and scary villains--antagonists who were worthy of a matchup with Lucas Davenport. That, too, is missing here.

The villain in this novel is a guy named Clayton Deese, who works as a leg-breaker for a New Orleans loan shark. But when an attempt to intimidate a late-paying customer goes wrong, Deese winds up in jail. He promptly skips bail and the marshalls are on his trail. They don't really care all that much about Deese; they're trying to build a case against his boss. But all that changes when the marshals raid Deesse's cabin in the woods and find a number of bodies buried behind the house. Even worse, it appears that Deese has been feasting on the more delectable parts of his victims.

Now a full-scale manhunt is underway with Lucas Davenport leading the search. Deese runs to California where he joins up with his brother and a couple of other guys who are doing brutal but profitable home invasions. Davenport, Bob and Rae will track Deese to California but will lose him and spend the rest of the book trying to track him down.

Deese is not a very interesting villain and, even allowing for the cannibalism, he doesn't come off as particularly scary. He doesn't remotely measure up to some of Sandford's earlier villains and hardly seems worthy of Davenport's attention. He also disappears for much of the time while the story focuses instead on the people he's teamed up with.

The book has its amusing and exciting moments, but there's no mystery about it, and very little tension. The whole story amounts to one extended manhunt and every reader knows that Davenport will get his man in the end, which raises the question, So what? Again, it's not a bad book, but it's not nearly in a league with the earlier Prey novels and a reader fresh to the series, if there is such a person among crime fiction fans, would be well advised to start at the beginning of the series rather that with Neon Prey.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Jim Chee Hunts for Missing Diamonds in This Novel from Tony Hillerman

In 1956, two airliners crashed over the Grand Canyon, killing 172 people and leaving their remains scattered along the Canyon. In Skeleton Man, Tony Hillerman has created a novel based off the event and set nearly fifty years later. This is the seventeenth novel in the series, featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police force. By this time, Leaphorn has retired, but pops in occasionally to assist Chee in his investigations, and in this book, he basically plays a small cameo role.

These novels are set on the borderlands between New Mexico and Arizona, and this one takes place mostly in the area around the Grand Canyon. It opens when a young Indian man named Billy Tuve attempts to pawn a diamond that’s worth $20,000 for $20.00. As a young boy, Billy suffered a head injury in a rodeo accident that left him somewhat mentally challenged, and he’s arrested and charged with stealing the diamond from a trading post.

Billy claims that the diamond was given to him by a mysterious old man at the bottom of the
Grand Canyon in trade for a shovel. He also says that the old man had many other diamonds just like it.

Enter a woman named Joanna Craig. Craig’s father, a diamond courier, was on one of the planes that crashed into the canyon in 1956. Handcuffed to his wrist was a briefcase containing a fortune in valuable diamonds. Many years later, someone floating down the river reported seeing an arm sticking out of the water with a handcuff attached to it. But before they could retrieve it, it was swept away by the water and never found.

Joanna’s father was also flying home with a special diamond to give her mother who was then pregnant with Joanna. The two were not yet married and the diamond was to be her mother’s wedding gift. Joanna’s mother had letters from her father documenting the relationship, rejoicing in the pregnancy, and confirming the marriage plans. But the father’s very wealthy family refused to accept this evidence and refused to acknowledge either Joanna or her mother and the two were left to fend for themselves.

Joanna has always borne a grievance for the way her mother was treated and wants the link to her father confirmed. When news of the diamond surfaces, she races to Arizona in the slim hope that the diamonds might lead her to what’s left of her father’s arm. DNA tests on the arm could prove paternity.

Jim Chee steps into the case in an effort to protect Billy Tuve and to determine how he actually came into possession of the diamond, especially after someone else tells a similar story. Could there really be an old man passing our diamonds at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

Unfortunately, of course, the news of the discovery will also attract some unsavory characters who hope to find the diamonds and otherwise profit themselves, and all of this will come to a stunning climax at the bottom of the canyon in the middle of a tremendous monsoon rain storm.

The attraction of these books lies in large part in the settings, which Hillerman so vividly creates and in the Navajo and Hopi customs and beliefs which are integral to the stories. This is not the strongest book in the series; personally, I prefer the earlier books where Leaphorn was the central character, but it’s still a good one and should not be missed by fans of the series.