Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dead Line, by Jack Patterson

Dead Line is the second of a series of Cal Murphy thrillers.  This one was written in 2011 and I get the idea it is an e-book only.  It was apparently also published in print under the title Crossing The Line, so check for both titles if you are searching for it.

Patterson is nothing if not a prolific writer, and he certainly knows his sports and how to write a fast moving book with its primary appeal, I would guess, to middle school boys. I think that audience would tend to overlook some highly unlikely plot points that allow the protagonist to easily transition from sports reporter at the Super Bowl to working a kidnapping case for the FBI, and still makes it back to the stadium before the fans and players have cleared out of the arena. (And the FBI guys aren't nearly as competent as one might hope or expect...)

Patterson creates some admirable characters, particularly the Seahawks quarterback Noah Larson, who is widely believed to be the odds on favorite to lead his team to victory in the Super Bowl, that is, before his son is kidnapped and held for ransom. In this case what is demanded is first, that he tell no one, and second, that he lose the game intentionally if he wants to see his son alive again. Patterson can create some chillingly ruthless bad guys too. Life is cheap in the drug cartel/kidnapping world of this book and many lie dead at the end.

I could also quibble about some spelling and grammatical errors, but that may be the fault of editors instead of the author.  Again, nothing that would bother the target audience. It is about sports, but also  about love of family, loyalty, and the stark contrast of good vs. evil and the choices individuals must make.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

This delightful book achieved all kinds of accolades in the UK, not to mention other European countries. Now the US audience gets a chance to read and enjoy this creative fantasy tale that features the world's coolest protagonist, an immortal, dare I say Super hero, a librarian named Irene!

Author Genevieve Cogman has imagined a world of multiple realities existing on a continuum ranging from order to chaos. Inhabitants of any given reality are not likely to be aware of the others, much less aware of an invisible library somehow holding them together.

Irene is not your usual librarian. One might say she is in Acquisitions, but don't confuse that with buying! When we meet Irene she is in one of the alternate realities, having assumed a false identity to enable her to acquire a rare book in a school for boys. She is successful in grabbing it, but barely escapes before the hell hounds catch up with her and I don't mean feisty teens.  Yes, some of these worlds have creatures that we understand as imaginary, but in that world, they are all too real!

She finds the portal back to the Invisible Library and assumes she will get the usual respite, but, no, she gets a quick and cryptic assignment right away, with the annoying last minute addition of a trainee junior librarian she has never met. In this new reality, there is a detective much like Sherlock Holmes, and the location is a version of London, but the residents also include werewolves, fairies, vampires and a little Steam Punk action.  But not to worry, Irene has some special skills to bring to the mix too!

Lots of action as Irene and her assistant  realize quickly the book they are after has already been stolen and there are several factions still after it. This may be Irene's most dangerous mission yet!

Good news: The Invisible Library should be widely available in the US in May and its sequel, The Masked City should follow soon.  Another delightful adventure fantasy from Great Britain, this series is guaranteed to captivate readers of all ages.

I got an opportunity to read an e-version of this book via NetGalley and am glad to offer a review in exchange.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Before The Fall, by Noah Hawley

Noah Hawley's plotting chronology is a little edgy:  he starts with the climax and then fills in the details of actual facts, together with wild speculation, to create a highly readable and thought-provoking mystery involving characters one grows to really care about.

The climax is a high profile crash of a private plane. Nine of eleven souls perish, but the clout and prestige of two of the passengers cause an eruption of speculation as to why it happened. The possibility of high powered enemies, millions of dollars of inheritance in play, not to mention impending indictments accusing the deceased securities broker of money laundering...I mean who has time to wait for results of an actual investigation?

Certainly not the news media, particularly the news/entertainment network formerly run by David Bateman, one of the deceased. If there is not a crash to investigate immediately, well, we still have a news hour to fill while the search team locates the remains of the small plane in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Martha's Vineyard and New York.

While we wait for actual details to unfold, let's start speculating about the survivors...what was in it for them?  News purveyors want to know. There were two. One was David Bateman's four year old son; the other was Scott Burroughs, an artist who lived on Martha's Vineyard and had met Mrs. Bateman at the market. When she had found out he needed to go to New York to visit art gallery owners about showing his paintings, she offered him a spot on the private plane. There was space and their family was returning home anyway.

Burroughs and the boy survive the crash but it seems like a miracle that they made it back to shore. As day go by, some news folks begin to doubt the accuracy of the initial calls to make Burroughs the hero. Maybe he did swim eleven miles at night through the ocean with a kid in tow, but what if there is more to his story? Maybe he was having an affair with Mrs. Bateman...

No kidding; this is a real page turner with lots of complex characters, and lots to speculate about as one considers the many possibilities of why this plane goes down. After the fact, we meet the deceased victims, their families, co-workers and friends. And tension mounts as the bodies of the deceased are recovered, pieces of the wreckage are discovered, and finally, the black box.

I received an early e-copy of Before The Fall from NetGalley in exchange for a review. It is a great read and ought to be a really compelling motion picture. Be watching for this book in May, 2016.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Patience and Fortitude, by Scott Sherman

Scott Sherman is an investigative journalist with the patience and analytical skills to dig through a convoluted pattern of opaque layers which nearly destroyed the world class New York City Public Library. The book takes it's name from the names given to the two majestic lions who guard the entrance to the library on 42nd Street. The plan to totally revamp this iconic institution was originally a stealth-type deal with many key decisions made behind closed doors by trustees more comfortable with a Wall street mind set than the heart of a researcher or librarian.

The library system is partially supported by public funds, but is not actually a department of the city  itself.  At it's beginning the NYPL was supported by wealthy donors with a dream of a free public library which would benefit all comers. In the old days, the library habitually operated in the red until a generous benefactor would  step in. But over time, new administrators and new trustees began to look for more reliable sources of funding. They noticed that the library's fine art collection was incredibly valuable and began to quietly sell it off. When that was gone the trustees, now weighted on the side of real estate moguls, began to look at other assets, and hit upon selling branch library buildings.  After all, the board hadn't allocated money for maintenance of the branch buildings in decades. But in real estate, location is everything.

The rationale was that the 42nd street location (for decades a primary research center on a par with the Library of Congress) could become the "branch" for the entire city.  To make room, trustees shipped thousands of books to off site storage areas, again acting without asking for any public input.  But the revelation of who and when and where eventually roused the public who love and use not only the flagship building on 42nd Street, but the many branch libraries as well.

It is a story of wealthy and well-meaning trustees, who came to see the library system, not as a priceless resource for research and learning, but as a very attractive and potentially lucrative real estate investment. And it is the story of writers, readers, library users of every sort, who swiftly took action when they grasped the enormity of the change that was about to occur. 

Sherman's narrative reads like a detective novel, a cautionary tale that names names and reveals rationales of all the players, those who granted interviews and those who did not, but whose actions reveal their intended outcomes. It is fascinating historically, and should cause readers to actively seek to preserve and protect iconic institutions they have come to expect will 'always be there' for them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen is a good man, a family man who loves nothing more than family time with his wife and son. As Dark Matter opens, he has not a clue that that life will be over forever in a matter of hours. Author Blake Crouch creates a fascinating premise and layers terror-lined suspense as we witness the mind-bending violence that forever changes the trajectory of Jason's life.

Author Crouch explores the what ifs of the myriad choices an individual makes throughout his life. What would have happened if one had chosen the path not taken?  Crouch has created a fascinating alternative universe in which it is just plausible that those paths might intersect.

I have to admit where, maybe half way through, I thought the ending was upon us and that this had been a good read...what else could happen? Well, the answer is plenty more could happen, and when I got over being annoyed at the introduction of additional characters I didn't care about as much, I settled in to the exciting and provocative "rest of the story."

It's hard to write a review that isn't more of  a synopsis, but trust me, you don't need the spoilers, and this is great science fiction packed with tons of action, a protagonist one can't help rooting for, and an unexpected but very satisfactory ending.

I received an early e-copy of this book from Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC in exchange for a review. I recommend it highly to all who enjoy a richly imagined tale, well told.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Big Fear, by Andrew Case

Ralph Mulino is a lonely detective.  He has been at it for his entire career; an honest cop with perhaps a little too much integrity to fit in with his fellow officers.  No one can forget the time years ago that he did not lie to protect a fellow officer.  He is overlooked for promotions and is just trying to make it to retirement.  And even at that, he takes every assignment that comes his way with unwavering dependability.  That's how he winds up answering a midnight call to investigate suspicious activity on a cargo boat in a New York harbor, an assignment that does not end well.

Leonard Mitchell is a civil servant who works in a department that investigates Misconduct and Corruption in the City workforce. At the beginning of the work day, the commissioner of  DIMAC, Christine Davenport, announces her resignation and leaves Leonard to handle both his job and hers. It falls to him to investigate the mysterious shooting on the water of one police officer by another, and soon it becomes obvious that the powers that be expect the shooter to be found guilty.  It is in Mitchell's best interest to deliver the expected verdict, and it is pretty easy to come to that conclusion himself, as the circumstantial evidence piles up.

In the meantime, former commissioner Christine Davenport has taken a job as an auditor of a small investment company which seems to be getting rich due to an uncanny accuracy at picking the companies to sell short right before they go bust from various unexpected causes.  She expects to get rich herself, as there is a lot more money in ferreting out corruption in the private sector than in the public sector.  How could she know that in a matter of days she would be dead, drowned accidentally according to the police report.

The Big Fear is the slow terror that builds as the web of unseen evil begins to tighten around Mulino and Mitchell, adversaries who begin to realize that the real enemy is far bigger, and so far, lots smarter than they have been.

Author Andrew Case is a veteran playwright as well as former investigator/policy director at the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which reviews alleged misconduct within the NYPD. This is his first novel, but his credentials are excellent and stand him in good stead in this police procedural/suspense/thriller set in a darker, more ominous era of New York City's near future. Case is a good wordsmith who has created complex characters and a darkly vivid portrait of a city that has strayed too far on too many fronts.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ice on the Grapevine, by R.E. Donald

Hunter Rayne, a retired detective in Canada, is now a long haul trucker running between Vancouver and California.  He is divorced, but is lonely for the security of home and family.  He is good at his job and respected by his coworkers in the trucking industry as well as the law enforcement team he has left behind.  He is the sort of retired detective that doesn't seek out trouble, but trouble seems to seek him out.

In this case, a husband and wife truck-driving team have found themselves held for questioning in Los Angeles and Hunter's dispatcher asks him to pick up the load they were to bring back to Canada. Oh, and by the way, she had told Ray, the husband half of the team, that Hunter would help him get a lawyer, as well as talk to the officer that had arrested Ray and Sharon Nillson on suspicion of murder!

What evidence there is is pretty circumstantial, but there are no other obvious suspects in this very odd case.  A frozen solid body found on the side of the road might have stayed a John Doe forever, except that there is a sticker frozen to the corpse's shoe which identifies a meat packing plant and the trucking company which shipped it.  It is a short hop to locating the now missing truck and it's drivers.  Who except those two could have locked the individual into the freezer they were pulling, and who but they could have dumped the body on the side of the road before continuing on to deliver the meat?

This mystery has many twists and turns and involves the lives and stories of many interesting individuals as author R.E. Donald uncovers layer after layer of the interesting plot.  The reader gets to know the law enforcement folks on both sides of the border; the girl friend of the frozen victim; the lawyers Hunter Rayne finds for Ray and Sharon, and Ray and Sharon themselves.  The mystery is a page turner with twists coming frequently and the "who done it?" factor keeps the reader involved till the story is finally completely revealed. A complex mystery with plenty to ponder as the story twists and turns toward a surprising finale.