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A review of 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald.500 Days (nook book)

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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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Another Summer Reading List

Back on June 13th, we posted a list of 10 books comprising part of our summer reading list.   Now, here’s a listing of 11 additional books that you might put in your Summer beach bag or your Winter vacation suitcase!

Northwest Corner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz

The new “great American novel” (Abraham Verghese) from the author of Reservation Road and The Commoner.   (Random House, July)

The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

The amazing true and suspenseful story behind the assassination of President James A. Garfield, and the attempts of a genius inventor (Alexander Graham Bell) to save his life.   (Doubleday, September)

Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern

A young woman whose family has always warned her to stay away from perfectly handsome men receives a proposal of marriage from a man who is sadly “perfect.”   (Touchstone Books, July)

The Vault: A Novel by Boyd Morrison

The author who proved that self-published writers could sell books like his novel The Ark is back with a thriller.   In The Vault, a group of terrorists are determined to use the secrets of King Midas for their destructive purposes.   (Touchstone Books, July)

Requiem for a Gypsy by Michael Genelin

This is the latest Jana Matinova Investigation from Michael Genelin, who has been called “the Tom Clancy of International Intrigue.”   The Pittsburg Post-Gazette noted that this former prosecutor, “seems incapable of writing a dull page.”   (Soho Crime, July)

The Grief of Others: A Novel by Leah Hagen Cohen

This novel is about a couple that strives to return to  normalcy after their baby dies just a day and  a half after his birth.   Can the Ryries and their two children rebuild their formerly happy and peaceful existence?   (Riverhead Hardcover, September)

No Rest for the Dead: A Novel by 26 writers

A murder mystery is written in 26 chapters by 26 different, prominent authors.   It’s an almost irresistable concept and, even better, it is set in San Francisco.   (Touchstone, July)

The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell

A novel set aboard the funeral train that carried Robert F. Kennedy to Arlington Cemetery.   (Putnam Books, October)

Mercy Come Morning by Lisa T. Berger

A female history professor travels to Taos, New Mexico to be with her mother who is dying of heart failure.   (Waterbrook Press, August)

The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache

Four women come to re-evaluate their lives in light of the knowledge that the most popular woman in the neighborhood is dying of cancer.   “…a glimpse into the lives of (an) intertwined group of women and their everlasting, complicated friendships.”   New York Journal of Books   (William Morrow, June)

Love Lies Bleeding by Jess Mcconkey

A golden girl has a perfect life until a random act of violence seems to change everything.   Is she going insane or has the world suddenly become hostile?   (William Morrow, July)

Joseph Arellano

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Split Second Timing

Capitol Betrayal by William Bernhardt (Ballantine Books, $26.00, 336 pages)

“You can tell us what the hell is going on,” Cartwright barked.   “You’re the president, not a damned flight attendant!”

The security force of the District of Columbia and its most prominent resident, the leader of the free world, are in serious peril.   Hotheaded terrorists and foreign governments are the obvious villains in this tale of gunshots, missiles and threats.   Although the premise may not be a new one, thanks to the masterful split-second timing of author William Bernhardt, it becomes fresh and vibrant.

The entire story takes place in less than a day.   Bernhardt builds the plot using one of his mainstay characters, Ben Kincaid.   Rather than having Kincaid be the featured player, Seamus McKay, a U.S. undercover operative who is nearing retirement age, provides the action and the fireworks.   Kincaid is the perfect intellectual lawyer counterpart to McKay’s clever MacGyver-like tricks and ploys.   The folks rounding out the cast of characters include some slippery and self-serving Washington insiders.

This reviewer has noted that a plot device that uses one scene depicted from the perspective of several different characters is often employed by novelists to build dramatic tension.   Bernhardt takes this device and builds the pace as though he’s smoothly double clutching in a Porsche.   Resist the temptation to peek at the ending and your self-control will be rewarded.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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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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