Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April Book Reviews


During the past few months I have had the pleasurable task of reading some very good books. They have ranged from a New Orleans caper, CIA thrillers, crime thrillers, and a young adult adventure story set in late 12th century England.

So working backwards let’s get started:

Longbow (The Saga of Roland Inness Book 1)
By Wayne Grant

I came by this book sitting in an immense hot tub at the Lake Louise hotel in the Canadian Rockies. Striking up a conversation with a gentleman, he soon discovered that I was a writer and I found that his brother, Wayne Grant, was also a writer with two young adult historical adventures that took the reader to 12th century England and the time of Richard the Lionheart. Grant also self-published his book and must have hit a sweet spot in the market, sales have been brisk. Excellent—and so is the story.

Roland Inness, the young hero, finds himself in great jeopardy after slaying one of the local noble’s deer to feed his desperate family. This is a time of great racial hatred between the Saxon natives, the Danes (and their not to be forgotten forebears the Vikings), the Welsh, the Irish, and the conquering Normans. The noble kills Roland’s father for the crime of being both a Dane and the father of the deerslayer. From there the story begins and Grant weaves in an exciting adventure across the Midlands of England to the Welsh border. Myself, having been raised on great period movies like Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, I easily imagined the dense primal forests and political intrigues that color Grant’s Longbow. There is much here for a young reader to learn about the customs, politics, and weaponry of this period of England’s history. I was most impressed with his ability to show the reader how the feudal system worked and how there is a definitive pecking order to the commoners, squires, knights, nobles, princes, and royalty—all deferring to each other but each desperately trying to move their place upward within the system. I especially enjoyed the history of the longbow itself and how it was condemned as a WMD (obviously not a term at that time) and forbidden on the pain of death. One could imagine how it was to change the course of history during the next two hundred years in the centuries before gunpowder.

Inness’s adventures changes him and we watch him grow during the long summer that contains the story. Grant is able to excite the reader during some very dramatic chase scenes and escapes. This is a story aimed at young boys but there is also a budding love story between Inness and his knight’s daughter that even a young girl would find appealing. It also held the interest of this, how should I say, quite mature young adult. I highly recommend it.


The Riviera Contract
By Arthur Kerns

The African Contract
By Arthur Kerns

I met Arthur Kerns at the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in California a number of years back as he was completing his first book, The Riviera Contract. As a retired FBI agent and contract “agent” for a number of counterintelligence agencies Kerns knows about what we writes.
The Riviera Contract is a good spy thriller with all the usual characters; Hayden Stone is a retired FBI agent who is dragged back into a special operation on the French Riviera by an agency that can’t trust anyone. There is a rich countess and past love, Arab terrorists, an inconvenient romance with a French agent—and plenty of action. While the manuscript itself needs a little work and editing, I found the story exciting and memorable. Good job Mr. Kerns.

In the follow up to Kern’s The Riviera Contract, The African Contract takes Hayden Stone to the seedier parts of an Africa that few Americans and Westerners will ever visit –or even want to. But that’s why there are writers like Kerns. They take us to thrilling places we can only imagine in our nightmares (how about a black mamba snake as a room guest). Multi-layered, rich with new and old characters, and gripping locations, Kerns carries us on a sweeping ride as broad as the African savannah and exotic as Sierra Leona and Capetown. I enjoyed it immensely.

The One That Got Away
By Simon Wood

After the French Riviera and Africa I needed a book that was more local and Simon Wood’s The One That Got Away fit the bill perfectly.

The story starts in the mountains of the California Sierra, where a very disturbed man has kidnapped two irresponsible young women on their way back from Las Vegas. One escapes, one dies. For a year, Zoe Sutton the survivor and the ONE that got away, is tortured by her guilt for not staying and saving her friend. That guilt, the doctor who is trying to help her, and a chance TV encounter that alerts the killer that Zoe survived, ignites the story. The serial killer (who scars his victims with a Roman numeral) is stuck with the label “Tally Man” by the media, vows to himself to complete what he started in the mountains: to find and capture the one that got away.

Wood presents well-developed characters and the story is plausible and uses the canvas of San Francisco and Northern California well. I found that time frames seemed crunched a bit between trips to the eastern slope of the Sierras, north to Napa and even further out. But I know the region well so this is more on me than Wood—five and six hour car drives can kill a thriller. Psychological thrillers are hard to pull off yet Simon Wood does a good job, fast paced, short and clean – I liked it.

My Sister’s Grave
By Robert Dugoni

I have taken many of Mr. Dugoni’s master classes on writing and his previous novels fill a portion of my bookshelves and IPad hard drive. He is thoroughly a master of his world of crime, criminals, juries and courtrooms. With My Sister’s Grave Dugoni takes a bit of a turn to a cold case that left one sister wondering for twenty years whether it was her fault her sister disappeared. When the remains are discovered, Tracy Crosswhite vows to find the killer and returns to the town that years ago turned its back on her.

Dugoni fully develops the story with rich characters (most with flaws and secrets) and like a good lawyer (that he is), leaves clues and a few red herrings about that pull the reader to the dramatic conclusion. The writing style is confortable, uncomplicated (as a thriller should be) and well edited. Good job.

The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping
By Les Edgerton

And lastly, something just for fun. Les Edgerton and I share a few things, most especially our love and appreciation of baseball and the San Francisco Giants. His latest book The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping is just downright fantastic and tres-tres cool. Les, after more than a dozen books covering everything from baseball to many things underworld in New Orleans, knows exactly how to hit that nerve that is both sharp and edgy. His prose is as crisp and crusty as a backroads Louisiana road-kill and as soft and mushy as a Café Du Monde beignet.

Pete Halliday is a failed baseball player (ex-Giant); seems he has this thing for gambling and it cost him his spot in the rotation and the team. Now in debt to a bookie he needs to get a chunk of money or suffer badly – and the best way out . . .kidnap the head of the local Cajun Mafia, cut off his hand, and hold the thing for ransom. And that’s just the main leitmotif of the story. There’s also the hooker with a heart of gold, a guy who thinks he’s a real Indian (maybe not), a double-cross, a classic case of Tourette’s syndrome in the face of some serious killers, and of course New Orleans. A place that Les says has broken his heart since Katrina. It is relentless and pulls you under like a fifteen-foot alligator in the bayou. It is a five star must read.

And by the way all the covers are great!! In my current stack of books to read are a few indie-published books, a new Baldacci, Connelly’s latest, Silva’s next, and a two-foot tall stack of World War II books for research on my upcoming war thriller. It’s a good thing I also have audio books.

More later . . . . . . .