Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Richard North Patterson's "Eclipse"

Recently divorced, California lawyer Damon Pierce receives an urgent message from Marissa Brand, a woman he once loved (and perhaps still does), asking him to come to the West African country of Luandia. Marissa's husband, an activist named Bobby Okari has been accused of murder by the corrupt, brutal regime that runs the country.

Luandia sits on an oil of ocean and lots of outsiders, Americans included, are anxious to get their hands on it. None of them are much concerned about the way in which Luandia's government exploits and abuses its own people. Nor do they care about the catastrophic environmental consequences of the oil production.

Pierce is determined to save Bobby and so becomes his lawyer at great personal risk. Patterson weaves a complicated web of intrigue that is at once scary and terribly disheartening, and by the time you finish the book, you want to swear off ever using a drop of oil again.

I have always been a huge fan of Patterson's work, especially his political thrillers, and I really wanted to like this book as well. There is a terrible earnestness about it; in addition to telling a riveting story, Patterson is obviously determined to open our eyes to the consequences of our addiction to oil.

And therein lies the problem, such as there is one. A lot of the book is spent in an effort to educate the reader to the situation in Luandia, which is a stand-in for Nigeria, and to the larger implications of our dependency on the resources of countries like it. In consequence, the book seems almost preachy at times, and it takes a fair amount for time for the book to really gather steam. Once it does, though, you can't put it down.

I'm giving this book three stars, which to me means that it's really very good, but not excellent. I respect the book's good intentions and it's an appropriate reminder of the fact that our continued addiction to oil--and to low oil prices--has a cost that goes well beyond that which we pay at the pump. And, once it does get rolling, it's very compelling. But I don't think it's as riveting as a lot of Patterson's other work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Review of John Sandford's "The Eyes of Prey"

This is the third book in John Sandford's long-running series featuring Lucas Davenport, and it features probably the most vile and complex villain of the entire series. Actually, there are two major bad guys. One is much more intelligent and much scarier than the other and, not surprisingly, he is the one pulling the strings in a series of murders inspired by the old Alfred Hitchcock film, "Strangers on a Train."

The mastermind's plan goes awry right from the start and the bad guys are left scrambling to clean up the mess and stay one step ahead of the cops. That will not be easy, because Lucas Davenport is hard on their trail and he's getting really pissed.

This is probably the most gruesome book in the series, and Davenport is at his darkest and most violent here. He's working out of a major depression that has virtually paralyzed him and acting out as a rogue cop ala Dirty Harry, without even a twinge of conscience.

As always, Sandford puts the reader right in the middle of the action. The writing is crisp; the plot is fast-paced, and the action is non-stop. And, even in a book this grim, there is a fair amount of the humor that characterizes the series.

It's hard to imagine that there could possibly be a fan of crime fiction who has not sampled this series yet, but if that person should exist, he or she should probably not begin with this book because, while it is a very good read, it's not really representative of the series as a whole. Some readers who might otherwise enjoy the series might be put off by the violence that permeates this particular book. As always, but especially in this case, the best place to begin would be at the beginning with the first book, Rules Of Prey. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

While in Hong Kong, photojournalist Jordan Glass wanders into an exhibit of paintings called "The Sleeping Women," and is unable to imagine why her presence is causing such a stir among the patrons and staff of the museum. The paintings alone are unsettling, because it appears to her trained eye that the women are not merely sleeping but are, in fact, dead. And then Jordan gets the shock of her life when she sees her own mirror image staring lifelessly back at her from one of the paintings.

More than a year ago, Jordan's twin sister, Jane, was kidnapped near her home in New Orleans, one of a string of women to be abducted in the city. None of the women, Jane included, has ever been seen again and now the victims have surfaced in this series of paintings, which are selling for upwards of a million dollars apiece. But who is the artist, and what has become of the women he has abducted and used as his models?

Jordan's discovery is the first major break in the case, and the FBI suggests that they might use Jordan to bait the killer into revealing himself. Haunted by the memory of her lost sister, Jordan readily agrees and soon finds herself at the center of a complex and absorbing investigation.

This is, really, a first-rate, complex, psychological thriller that grabs you from the opening chapter and keeps you enthralled through the final sentence. The characters are well-imagined and expertly fleshed out. The plot is taut and gripping and the action is well staged. It's hard to imagine that any fan of crime fiction would not be immediately seduced by this book.