Tag Archives: FBI

Come Together

The Charlestown Connection: A Novel by Tom McDonald (Oceanview Publishing, $25.95, 272 pages)

Tom McDonald’s The Charlestown Connection has a little Umberto Eco in it at times.   In the book, a recovering alcoholic and former college football star (before a career-ending injury), Dermot Sparhawk, goes on a chase to clarify conspicuous circumstances surrounding his grandfather Jeepster Hennessey’s death.

The tale is set in the projects of Boston, where virtually every character, including Jeepster and Dermot, possesses varying degrees of shadiness.   In fact, the resolution at the end, though not technically illegal, walks a fine line of legitimacy.

When the clue, “Oswego” surfaces, it leads Dermot on a circuitous and unlikely journey that eventually brings closure to Jeepster’s eventful life.   In the process, suspected IRA members try to discourage Dermot from continuing on his quest; the FBI becomes involved, though this, too, is not what it seems; former inmates come into play both directly and indirectly; and the world of stolen art takes center stage in resolving the mystery.

The reader is occasionally thrown off course, by design and – as with most books of this genre – the chapters are short and the story moves along well.   The reader is brought into the story easily, though after about two-thirds of the way through, the momentum wanes.   The confluence of circumstances that finally come together and lead Dermot to the answer he seeks requires that the reader suspend belief to a large degree.   But, this is a novel – the type of novel people read to be entertained, and it certainly has its entertaining moments.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…so entertaining you may want to read it twice.”   Portland Book Review

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Telstar

Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel by Steve Martini (William Morrow, $26.99, 392 pages)

Be prepared for globe-trotting action as Steve Martini launches his most recent Paul Madriani thriller at a full throttle.   This pace is maintained as the action shifts among key players and the locales where they are hiding, cooking up mayhem or stalking human prey.

Martini’s fans will be pleased that the story picks up the thread of danger and fear that Madriani’s nemesis, Liquida Muerte, has brought to previous novels.   The nucleus of characters includes his attorney partner Harry Hinds, lady friend Joselyn Cole and, of course, Madriani’s beloved daughter, Sarah.   Further out from the inner circle are Thorpe at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and his cohort of spies and snitches.   The premise, locating and stopping terrorists bent on producing the means for destroying key targets in the U.S., creates tension and no end of drama.   The subplot is pure Martini – fierce papa Madriani needs to assure the safety of Sarah and will do most anything to secure it.

”I knew it.   I knew it.   This thing smelled the minute I got that call from the White House.”   Thorpe got out of his chair, waiving the cigarette around like a torch.   “So now they dump it on us to find these guys, and if we fail, it’s our ass in the flames.   And if that’s not enough, they want to play hide the ball.   They can’t tell us what it’s about.   Son of a bitch,” said Thorpe.   “Damn it!”

The focus on wicked scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California seems a bit like the reverse play on the TV show NUMB3RS where brilliant scientists solved ugly crime with math and physics.   The doubts about who’s the good guy and who’s the self-centered monster make the plot twists and turns all the more enjoyable.   Martini knows how to play out the suspense and snap to a conclusion, segue to more action and never miss a beat.

While some thriller series may lose their vitality, thankfully, the Madriani franchise is clearly not one of them.   This reviewer is looking forward to the next installment from Steve Martini’s vivid imagination.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Martini is a crafty pro.”   The Washington Post

“Martini has created one of the most charismatic defense attorneys in popular fiction.”   Linda Fairstein

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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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Bone Chilling

The Bone Thief: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $24.99, 359 pages)

The authors of this true-to-life, crime scene investigation novel are a team:  Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.   Together they write as Jefferson Bass, in the same fashion that Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write as Preston Child.  

Bass and Jefferson have written several novels based on the work of Dr. Bass, who is a highly respected forensic anthropologist.   In these novels, unlike the CSI shows on television, there is no criminology practiced that relies on magic technological crime-fighting equipment dreamed up by a screenwriter.   The characters in The Bone Thief  must employ intellect, observation, and plain old footwork to solve a most perplexing series of body part thefts.

Dr. Bill Brockton, the chief protagonist, is a forensic anthropologist who works at the University of Tennessee managing the Body Farm, where the decomposition of human remains is studied.   He and his research assistant Miranda Lovelady (a name that’s a bit overly obvious) are drawn into a mystery involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while at the same time they’re on a quest to find a fresh set of hands for a colleague who received a massive dose of radiation while performing an autopsy.   The surgeon’s skillful hands are being destroyed by the radiation he encountered.

The story here is told in the first person by Dr. Brockton.   The underlying theme of the tale is Brockton’s introspection on choices he and others make, relationships and human frailty.   Recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   It is said that there is a real-life Body Farm managed by Dr. Bass. 

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Wait, There’s More…

Fever Dream by Preston & Child (Hachette Audio Unabridged)

The writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Preston & Child) have a winning franchise that stars Aloysius Pendergast, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent with a distinctive southern drawl.   Fever Dream, their tenth in the series, is a mesmerizing story with an international twist.   Actor Rene’ Auberjonois’ narration heightens the atmospheric tension with a nimble voice that shifts easily from character to character.

The audio book was this reviewer’s first experience with the series and it will not be the last.   The story opens with the hideous death suffered by Pendergast’s wife, Helen, in the jaws of a lion during an African visit.   Fast forward 12 years to when Pendergast comes across evidence that leads him to the unavoidable conclusion that his soul mate was murdered and was not the victim of a natural occurrence.   The story shifts back to the United States and thus begins the obsessive hunt for Helen’s killer or killers.

The languid, lush atmosphere of the southern U.S. replete with wily characters and roadside diners makes it as much a character as is Pendergast, his brother-in-law Judson Esterhazy or sidekick, Vincent D’Agosta of the New York City police department.   This is a story of the obsession that is part of every character’s makeup.   There are meticulous details, vivid descriptions and a rather sweet ‘n salty taste to the language used by the characters.   Along the way, the listener is treated to fascinating historical information about John James Audubon who painted some of the most beautiful bird and animal pictures ever created.

This novel reminds this reviewer of the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”   Both are highly entertaining attention grabbers.

Recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Hachette Audio.

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A Feverish Giveaway

Thanks to Anna at Hachette Book Group/Hachette Audio, we have three (3) unabridged audio book copies of Fever Dream to give away!   This novel by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston (known as Preston & Child) is ranked as a 3.75 star book at Google Books and as a 4 star book – out of a possible 5 – at Amazon.   The story is contained on 12 CDs and has a list price value of $29.98.  

Here is a synopsis of Fever Dream:

At the old family manse in Louisiana, FBI Special Agent Pendergast is putting to rest his long-ignored possessions reminiscent of his wife Helen’s tragic death, only to make a stunning and dreadful discovery.   Helen had been mauled by an unusually large and vicious lion while they were big game hunting in Africa.  But now, Pendergast learns that her rifle – her only protection from the beast – had been loaded with blanks.   Who could have wanted Helen dead…  and why?

With Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta’s assistance, Pendergast embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery of his wife’s murder.   It is a journey that sends him deep into her past where he learns much that Helen herself had wished to keep hidden.   As Pendergast probes more deeply into the riddle the answer to which is revealed in a night of shocking violence, deep in the Louisiana bayou – he finds himself faced with an even-greater question:  who was the woman he married?

“It’s the authors’ best book in years.”   Library Journal

In order to enter this audio book giveaway, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with the heading “Fever Dream” to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   In order to enter a second time, tell us what you think about the idea of two authors joining – like Preston and Child – to write a novel together.   (We think it’s a “novel” idea!)  

In order to be eligible to win an audio book in this contest, you must live in either the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address (not a P. O. box).   You have until midnight PST on Monday, July 5, 2010  to enter.   This is it for the rules…  Good luck and good listening!

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The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist by M.J.  Rose (MIRA)

“(W)hat I thought was missing her has really been the part of me that loved her like that.”

Author M.J. Rose has the ability to gently pull her reader into a web of intrigue.   Once begun, this tale unfolds magically and then it’s too late to turn back or put the book down.   The Hypnotist is the third in The Reincarnationist series.   Rose’s subtle character development allows the reader to move through time with the main character, an FBI agent specializing in the recovery of stolen art.   The plot provides a charming mix of Middle Eastern political intrigue, family dynamics, museum culture and, of course, the notion of reincarnation.   The premise of the story is that the power to control people is more valuable than money.   In this case control is mind control.

Many of the characters are portrayed with both physical attributes and realistic medical conditions.   It is refreshing to read about someone who is a thoughtful, intelligent older woman who, by the way, has multiple sclerosis.   However, not all of the characters are so well conceived.   The mercenaries – and there are quite a few of them – are stereotypically heartless and greedy, lacking any real dimension.

M.J. Rose is at her best when providing reverential descriptions of art works, primarily paintings and sculpture.   Clearly, she has a comfortable working knowledge of daily life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.   She fills the museum with wide-eyed elementary school children playing among the exhibits that occupy the public spaces and quirky curators and restorers who work their magic behind the scenes in the depths of the immense building.

The author’s disarmingly soothing voice works to her advantage when she explores the notion of reincarnation.   She draws the reader into a complex mix of reality and imagination that spans time and location.   The Hypnotist relies on a dreamlike romanticism for its charm.   Many chapters begin with thought-provoking quotes regarding energy, souls and afterlife.   The most compelling scenes are the ones in which the action is served to the reader using pragmatic, low-key descriptions of horrific actions in the past and present.

M.J. Rose is a very skillful storyteller.   No wonder Fox Television will soon have a show based on the premise of this series of her books.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An advance review copy was provided by MIRA Books.

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