Tag Archives: action novel

The Race Is On

A Bad Day’s Work: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland (Touchstone; $14.99; 268 pages)

After reading Nora McFarland’s second Lilly Hawkins mystery, Hot, Shot, and Bothered, I was curious about the characters and their alliances.   Rather than rehashing the background for the series here, I suggest you check out the review posted previously on this site.

In this debut book, Lilly has a sense of urgency associated with getting the breaking story while assuring her place on the news team.   She is caught up in her own drama and dives furiously into an assignment in foggy Bakersfield, CA.   Making the most of being a TV news camera person, a shooter, is uppermost in Lilly’s mind.   As you might imagine, there’s a whole other scenario playing out behind the main story – a decent fellow is gunned down while driving a truck full of cargo.   Moreover, the cargo has vanished but no one is sure what it was!   There are private security guards, sheriff’s deputies and a wealthy businessman who create a murky view of the facts in the story.   To make matters even more confusing, Lilly’s co-workers are not exactly who she thinks they are.

The action takes place over the span of one day.   Author McFarland packs the day with a remarkable volume of action that includes car chases, hiding from the authorities and a gang attack.   While action plays a key role in the story, it is the development of Lilly’s relationships with her co-workers that brings the story to life.   She must decide who is on her side and who is blocking her career path.   Several past mishaps with camera equipment and a black tape of the crime scene investigation are leading the newsroom management to wonder about Lilly’s abilities and commitment to her profession.   Lilly’s past includes the loss of her father and estrangement from her mother.   These traumas contribute to the plot.   Needless to say, there’s no boredom in this book!

McFarland’s style is consistent over the two mysteries.   Let’s hope she adds to the Lilly Hawkins series with the same attention to heart and action present in the first two books.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Packed full of adrenaline and attitude, A Bad Day’s Work is a roller-coaster ride…   Don’t miss it!”   Lisa Scottoline

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Magic Carpet Ride

The Valley of Shadows: A Novel by Mark Terry (Oceanview, $25.95, 291 pages)

Mark Terry, author of the novels The Fallen and The Devil’s Pitchfork, has produced a “ripped from the headlines” novel about terrorists acting in the  U. S.   In The Valley of Shadows, members of Al-Qaeda plan to simultaneously attack five American cities:  Washington, D. C., New York City, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.   So it’s up to five-person teams assigned to each of the targets to find the terrorists hiding in plain sight, and interfere with their plans to use dirty bombs and maybe nuclear weapons.

Our protagonist, Derek Stillwater, a wild, wooly and instinct-based troubleshooter for the Department of Homeland Security, is assigned to the L. A. team.   Derek and his four team members (who will be under the leadership of Cassandra O’ Reilly, Ph.D., of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; a one-time flame of Stillwater’s who has little love or use for him now) have just 48 hours to complete their impossible mission.   Oh, and if this isn’t enough to heap on their plates, it seems that the terrorists plan to destabilize the U. S. national election by assassinating one of the two major party candidates for president.   The candidate plans to arrive at LAX for a previously scheduled southern California campaign stop.

Start reading this unique thriller and you’re likely to put almost everything else aside for the next 48 hours, or less, in real-time.   It’s an e-ticket, fast pass, wild ride from start to finish – from Islamabad, Pakistan to Santa Monica – that never takes a wrong turn.   Author Terry has done his homework, having been briefed by members of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration (an air traffic controller has a key role in the story), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.   It’s clear that he – like his alter ego Derek Stillwater – has friends in high places, and he makes full use of inside information in the crafting of this all-too-realistic tale.

If you’re a fan of authors like Michael Connelly, Joseph Finder and David Baldacci, you may be ready to join the Mark Terry fan club…  And unless you plan to purchase a new Porsche Cayman S, you’re not likely going to experience a better ride.   Trust me on this.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Valley of Shadows was released on June 7, 2011.   “Terry mashes the action pedal to the floor in this solid Derek Stillwater novel.”   Publishers Weekly

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Secret Agent Woman

Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA by Susan Hasler (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 308 pages)

“I can’t decide which is worse:  the lucid dreams or the muddled reality.   I have no one to blame but myself…  I hate, hate, hate going to sleep at night.”

Former CIA analyst Susan Hasler’s debut novel could easily be classified as an autobiography.   Hasler’s psychological exploration of the major, read that sympathetic, characters moves this tale into novel status.   The plotline is so believable that readers will buy into it quickly.   Lead character Maddie James uses her years of experience as an analyst at the Mines (the CIA) and her chilling dreams of impending doom to identify what she believes to be a genuine imminent threat to safety within the U.S. 

The game of cat and mouse between the analysts and the terror threat is afoot once Maddie wheedles her boss into allowing an ad hoc group of specialists in the Mines to work together to address Maddie’s concerns.   There is no need for a spoiler alert in this review as the novel is not a mystery.   What is a mystery is the way that legions of upper management in state and federal government choose to disregard the findings of capable, well-informed line staff in favor of the politician-pleasing actions that all too often lead to disaster.

“The President doesn’t want to hear this.”

The story is peppered with government acronyms and filled with revelations of how far off public perceptions are from actual intelligence work.   It’s no small wonder that more blunders and misses are not made given the pressure to please the folks up the chain of command that’s brought to bear on analytical staff.   The analysts are badgered into following the party line rather than reporting on what is revealed.

As a former government research analyst, this reviewer felt vindicated by the thoughts and actions of the Mines ad hoc group of anti-terrorists mustered by Maddie as they race against an imagined deadline to thwart an attack on a civilian target of significant size.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).

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