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Bookends: A thriller series that uses many different genre styles May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A thriller series that u
ses many different genre styles

by Dan Davidson

July 4, 2018

– 981 words –

 

The John Milton Series

by Mark Dawson

self published

 

Back in the days of the pulp magazines, writers like Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant, author of most of The Shadow stories) and Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson, author of most of the Doc Savage stories) would sit at their typewriters and pound out dozens of short (average 120 pages) novels each year to feed the magazines that housed them. When the paperback book came along a few decades later, some, like John D. MacDonald, whom I wrote about here a few weeks back, jumped to the paperback original market. Gibson and Dent would later find their books reprinted as paperbacks, though they probably didn’t make a lot of money on them, as they were writers-for-hire and didn’t own the characters.

Writers have been pretty much at the mercy of the publishing houses for well over a century, and the flurry of mergers over the last several decades has left them with even fewer options for creative control.

Recently we have entered the era of self-publishing, and that’s changing the game. I receive a few of those actual books for consideration in this column. Others come from distribution houses that handle dozens of different imprints. Still others are pitched on Facebook and other platforms, often with an offer of some free material, sometimes in omnibus format.

That’s how I met Mark Dawson, Let’s face it; with that last name I had to give him a try. The advertising pitch he’s been using, along with a number of other thriller writers, compares his material to Lee Child’s successful Jack Reacher novels. In interviews, Dawson himself admits that this is not an accurate comparison; it’s what might be called an “elevator pitch”, something to catch your attention.

 

John Milton is a former assassin, who used to do wet work for the Group, a black ops branch of MI6, with possible connections to MI5. He was recruited by Control after a career in the military, including several tours on behalf of Her Majesty in some nasty places. He rose through the ranks to become Number 1 in the Group.

All of the following books arrived in one omnibus volume from Amazon, which provides the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on which they were produced. All have since also appeared as actual physical books. Dawson has been busy, churning out 13 of these between 2013 and this year.

In the first book, The Cleaner (314 pages), Milton final

The Cleaner

ly faces a situation that is the tipping point for his conscience. Long sin

ce driven to drink to deal with his guilt complex, he resigns from the Group and sets out of a path of redeeming himself by helping others. Rather, he tries to resign. Control doesn’t take it well and sends one of the lower numbers to decommission him permanently. It doesn’t go well, either for the agent, or for Milton’s attempts to be a white knight. He has to flee.

 

Book two, Saint Death (290 pages) , finds him

Saint Death

working as a short order cook in a small Mexican city, keeping a low profile andstaying out of trouble. As often as possible, he attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and this helps to keep him away from the booze. Quite by accident, he ends sup saving the life of young female reporter who has

Ghosts

been annoying the local drug cartel’s leader by writing about their influence over the local authorities, and things just get more complicated. Once again, a squad from the Group comes to find him, and so he has to cope with danger from several sides. This book actually does feel a little bit like a Reacher story.

I dipped into the third book after a few months of heavier reading, just needing a bit of a break, and found myself pleasantly surprised. In The Driver(330 pages), Milton has been living in San Francisco or several months, working two jobs, attending lots of AA meetings, actually making some friends, and keeping out of trouble. One of his fares turns out to be an escort, and when something goes terribly wrong at the party she’s been hired to attend, it begins to look like she’s been killed. After the bodies of several other call girls turn up, the police start looking for suspects. Milton ends up helping his fare’s boyfriend, at least partly because both of them have become prime suspects.

There’s politics involved here, and the presidential candidate in question could actually be the source for much of Donald J, Trump’s campaign rhetoric; this is fairly prophetic for a book written two years before that campaign.

This one blends the thriller genre with a fairly straightforward mystery feel. Be warned though, there’s an epilogue which acts as a nearly irresistible teaser for the next book. I found myself turning the electronic page.

Ghosts (273 pages) changes the format entirely, delving back almost a decade in its opening chapters to Milton’s first major hit with the Group, led by the then Number One, Beatrix Rose, and told from her point of view. Dawson is canny, and this book served as what television producers would call a “back door pilot” for a second series, now up to six books, featuring this deadly lady,

Milton is rescued from the predicament that ended the previous book and is spirited off to Moscow, to be enlisted in a revenge plot that serves his own needs as well as those of the rogue Russian general whom he had failed to kill eight years earlier. Once again Dawson has switched genres for his story, bouncing the reader from Texas to Moscow, to Hong Kong, to London, to Moscow and back to London in the end. He has called his character “James Bond with a conscience” and that pretty much fits this particular story.

 

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins? December 30, 2018

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins?

By Dan Davidson

May 1, 2018

– 731 words –

 

Snap Judgment

By Marcia ClarkSnap

Thomas an Mercer

447 pages

 

 

Snap Judgment is the third novel in Marcia Clark’s series about lawyer Samantha Brinkman. Brinkman’s small firm, Brinkman and Associates, includes her receptionist and organizer Michelle Fusco and her investigator and computer whiz, Alex Medrano. One of her closest friends is her father, Detective Dale Pearson, whom she did not know as her father when she took him on as a client a few years earlier.

From what I have read, Brinkman undertakes a variety of cases, but the main plots in the novels seem to involve her defending professional people.

In this case, her possible client is prominent civil litigator Graham Hutchins, whose daughter, Alicia, was recently found murdered in her off-campus apartment.

It seems that her boyfriend, Roan, with whom she about to break up, is the most obvious suspect. Certainly Alicia’s diary entry, which opens this book, points us in that direction. But Roan turns up dead shortly after, an apparent suicide. Was it remorse for the death of Alicia or was it actually revenge by someone else?

If the latter, then the needle might swing round to point at Hutchins, the grieving father. He views Sam as a friend and colleague and admires her tenacity on other cases enough to think that she would do well by him, should the police decide he is a person of interest.

It’s a bit of a Perry Mason style trope for the lawyer to decide that the best way to keep her client safe is to find the real killer, but that device can still work if it is deftly done, and Clark carries it off fairly well.

All murder mysteries have to have red herrings dragged across their plot lines, and there are lots of those here. Sam’s not entirely sure she trusts Hutchins to give her all the information she needs to work with. There are, in fact, various surprises that she uncovers along the way, surprises about Alicia and surprises about her client.

Books are picking up the idea of multiple plot lines from television, where the average show will have A, B, and sometimes C, plots weaving in and out of each other. Some will be event driven; others will have more to do with relationships.

The B plot here involves Sam’s obligations to a rather serious and nasty underworld type named Cabazon, who insists that she be of service to him in a matter unrelated to the main story. This involves some complicated family relationships, and has a ticking timeline attached to it. Solutions here involve some tricky maneuvering and careful crossing of legal lines.

Springing from that plot, but tangential to it, is a third problem involving domestic abuse. Again it requires a bit of tricky, not entirely legal, business to solve that problem.

The author is, herself, a famous (or infamous) lawyer, having started out as a defense attorney before moving to the prosecution, and having become most famous for her failure to convict O.J. Simpson. Following that debacle, she left the courts, co-wrote a book about the case, and became a frequent commentator on a variety of shows and networks, including Today, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as a legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.

More recently she turned to crime fiction, producing a series of novels about a prosecutor, Rachel Knight, before moving to the other side of the courtroom with Brinkman. This series has already been optioned for a television show.

It’s not unusual for legal eagles to turn their hand at crime fiction. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the aforementioned Perry Mason novels, written one or two a year from 1933 to 1973 (some published after his death in 1970), was also a lawyer. B.C. author William Deverell, who attended the Yukon Writers Festival and Young Authors’ Conference some years ago, was also a criminal lawyer and a prosecutor. His best known novels are probably the satirically humorous ones featuring Arthur Beauchamp, QC, but much earlier in his career, he wrote the pilot for CBC’s Street Legal series, which is about to be revived.

Our recently retired Supreme Court Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, apparently wiled away her spare time dabbling in crime fiction, and her first legal thriller, Full Disclosure, hit the bookstores earlier this week.

 

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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five December 30, 2018

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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five

By Dan Davidson

April 18, 2018

– 955 words –

 

The Five

The Five

By Robert McCammon

TOR Books

500 pages

$10.99

 

The Five are a travelling rock band, a lower echelon group with a name as unimaginative as the name of the folk group I was a member of in high school. We used to practice in a Grade 5 classroom and there were five of us, so guess what we called ourselves. When we added a sixth member, we became the Grade 5 +1.

This band is fronted by lead singer and guitarist John Charles, stage name Nomad, a veteran of many touring bands ever since his high school days, following in the footsteps, or perhaps frets, of his father, who had a similar career.

Then there’s Ariel, a somewhat ethereal second on lead vocals and guitar. With Nomad, she writes most of the songs. She’s unsure of herself, but thinks of the group as her family.

Terry is a whiz on every sort of keyboard. Mike is a super bassist, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a solid player. Berke is a bit of an oddball, a lesbian drummer with a touch of genius.

Then there’s George, their manager, and often the driver of their van, the Scumbucket, which is actually his van. He’s a hard worker.

Their latest single, and video, is an anti-war commentary called “When the Storm Breaks”. It’s getting some airplay, stimulating some interviews and social media attention, and getting them some sales of their latest CD.

The first 70 or so pages of this book are about the rather depressing life of the band, and I have to admit that I really wasn’t getting into this story, having expected it to be a bit more like George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag. McCammon is, after all, known for his horror/fantasy writing.

I put it aside, read about 20 other books, and picked it up again one evening. I had to flip through the first chapter to remind myself who was who, but then I got to chapter two.

Chapter two introduced another character, Jeremy Pett, a former US Special Forces sniper who is on the verge of committing a PTSD fueled suicide when he has a vision. The Five’s video in on his crappy television when he is called out of his bloodstained bathtub by a compelling voice that offers him a mission, something that he has been sadly lacking since his honourable discharge.

His mission: stalk and kill the members of The Five.

It’s never clear just where that mission came from, but later in the book we are told of at least two other guys who get the same message by different means and make their own attempts on the band. Can’t just be an association of music critics, but one has to wonder what’s going on.

By that time, George has announced that this is his last go round and he’s heading home to join the family business. Terry also plans to quit. His love is keyboards and he plans to open a vintage keyboard repair and creation shop, while doing some music on the side. Basically, they’re burned out on the touring life.

Nomad suggests they should all collaborate on one last song to be sung at their last gig together in a few weeks. Berke derides this as a Kumbaya maneuver, but Mike, who has never written anything, is inspired by a migrant worker girl they meet and writes down some of the positive words she spoke to them. He hands them to Berke at their next gas stop, and then dies in front of her when a high powered slug explodes his head.

He is the first. Days later Berke thinks she feels a bullet whiz by her head while she’s jogging. She’s not quite sure, so she doesn’t tell anyone, but when George takes two in the chest a day or so later, after an evening’s performance, everyone, including the FBI, knows there’s a killer on the road (to borrow a phrase from the Doors).

While Nomad is the character whose point of view we follow the most, all of the other members of the group, as well as their nemesis, get their pages.

We also spend time with fiftyish FBI Agent Truitt Allen, who is put in charge of the group assigned to guard the group as they finish their tour in the hope that having them out there as live bait will enable the FBI to capture Pett.

Allen, usually called True from that point on, becomes the group’s acting manager and usual driver (George is recovering in a hospital), while also coordinating their defense with his team of four other agents, at least until head office decides that this whole operation is costing too much money and forces him to scale back.

You can probably tell that my interest in the book increased a lot after Pett entered the plot, and that’s kind of ironic because the group’s sales and reputation skyrocket as it becomes clear to the media that this is a most unusual tour.

McCammon was a big name in the horror genre until the early 1990s, when he retired from the mainstream for 10 years over a dispute with his publisher. The Five marked his return to the shelves with a modern day setting in 2011. Most of his other work since the early 2000s has been horror fiction set in the 17th to 19th centuries, much of it featuring a character named Matthew Corbett.

He has been a winner of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker (3 times) awards, and nominated for others.

 

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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody

By Dan Davidson

February 7, 2018

– 838 words –

 

The Professionals

By Professionals copy

Putnam

372 pages

$27.50 hardcover

$12.99 paperback

 

 

Owen Laukkanen has been very busy over the last five years. There have been six books in his Stevens and Windemere series of mysteries. He’s been nominated for a slew of awards, won a couple and has graduated to full time writing after spending a number of years covering international poker games for a website called PokerListings.com.

In a way, his life story up to that point was a bit similar to that of the likeable villains in his first novel. His degree in creative writing from UBC wasn’t getting him anywhere in the world and he lucked onto the job writing about poker, a game about which he knew almost nothing when he started.

The merry band of kidnappers in this book started out in much the same place. They had degrees and debt and no hope of employment beyond being baristas at franchise coffee joints. They weren’t lucky enough to land a job writing about poker tournaments and travelling all over the world on the company dime.

Then one of them had a bright idea. Why not use the research skills they had to pick safe low level targets, kidnap them without actually ever hurting anyone, and operate so far below the radar that no one ever notices.

They saw themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, which just happened to be themselves. It would work out fine if they just remained professional about it.

For two years it did work out fine, and the four accumulated quite a bank account. They were slick, moved from state to state, picked mid-level wealthy marks who could afford a moderate ransom, and never hurt anybody.

Then, one of their carefully selected targets fell through, and since they had their plan for the area all set up, they went to the alternate choice, and it turned out that, although he looked pretty safe, they hadn’t looked deep enough. His wife was connected to organized crime.

Then, the mark heard one of their names, and their strong-arm man, who’d been getting little too much into the role of being a bad guy, shot him.

To back up just a little, the caper just before that hadn’t gone quite as planned, Usually, the marks were totally embarrassed and kept quiet about what had happened. That victim went to the police after he was freed. The case landed on the desk of state police investigator Kirk Stevens, whose instincts told him that this crime had been just a little too slick to be the first one.

Looking for others that might resemble it took him across state lines and involved the FBI, who gave the case to Carla Windermere.

About that time, the gang killed their latest victim, in yet another state, and the game was afoot.

Stevens is a family man with a wife and kids. She supports his police work, but she has a career of her own to nurture. Up to now, he hasn’t had to travel a lot. This case puts some strain on the dynamic of their marriage.

Windermere has an underemployed partner in a common-law relationship, which is pretty much coming apart at the seams.

The two agents are quite different people, something underlined by him being white and her black. What they do have in common is a love of the chase. Both have been feeling under appreciated in their respective jobs. There is a definite attraction between them, but neither one of them gives into it, at least, not in this first book.

We spend as much time with the kidnappers as we do with the authorities, Of the four – Pender (the planner), Sawyer (the muscle), “Mouse” (the hacker) and Marie (good on details) – we get to know Pender and Marie the most. They are presented quite sympathetically and we like them, but we feel for them as we watch them skip down that well known road to hell that is paved with good intentions.

We know this is not going to end well, and yet we wish it somehow could.

There is a third perspective on all of this, which makes it possible for us to spend some energy rooting for the kidnappers. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but the mob hired hit man who is sent to get them, in an investigation that parallels the official one, really is a bad guy, and means to misbehave is serious ways.

It’s acceptable for us to prefer the kidnappers to him and his cohort of killers.

If you’re trying to figure out just where this Vancouver based writer might fit in your library, he has impressive list of cover blurbs from other people who work this genre, including Steve Berry, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lescroart, John Sandford and Lee Child. There aren’t often that many for a first novel.

 

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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls December 28, 2018

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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls

By Dan Davidson

January 24, 2018

– 736 words –

 

 

Broken Promise

Broken Promise

By Linwood Barclay

512 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

Far From True

Far from True

By Linwood Barclay

 

480 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

The Twenty-Three

By Linwood BarclayThe Twenty-Three

464 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

Having read all of these, one after the other (because I really wanted to know what the heck was going on) I think I have to warn you to have all three on hand or on your e-book reader of choice before you begin the first one. The Promise Falls Trilogy, as it is being called, is probably best described as one long novel.

I want to talk first about the narrative style, which is interesting. Each book is a blend of first and third person narratives, with each book choosing a different first person narrator along with numerous third person points of view (POV).

The chief protagonists are, in order through the books: David Harwood, an out of work reporter; Cal Weaver, a small time private investigator; and Barry Duckworth, a detective with the local police force. We see them through their own eyes, and also through the eyes of each other and those of several other third person viewpoints that weave through the three books.

Each book also begins with a statement from the person behind most – but not all – of the bad things that are happening in the town. Each is a teaser: “I hate this town.”; “They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”; “I know I won’t be able to get them all. But I hope I’ll be able to get enough.”

It’s clear from the very start that whoever is thinking those words believes he has some kind of vengeance owed to him or her, but just what that might be about, and who she or he might be, is hidden until very near the end. There are lots of red herrings, though.

Davis Harwood’s personal mystery begins when he discovers that his emotionally challenged sister (still suffering from a miscarriage) is suddenly in possession of a year old baby she claims to have received from an angel. When the real mother is found murdered, David, who has been forced to take a job as campaign manager for the former mayor of the town, a man he despises, has the task of finding out what has really happened.

Barry Duckworth has been plagued by this same disgraced politico, but he has to admit that whoever killed 23 small animals and hung them from a fence does seem to be sending some kind of a message. There are a couple of murders that also seem to have the number 23 connected to them. He has the niggling feeling that something is going on, but when we first meet him he seems almost more concerned with the need to stay away from donuts. In the first two books we are nearly tempted to write him off, but he improves over time.

Cal Weaver is marginally involved in the first book, but becomes the first person narrator after the opening sequence in book two. This is when someone blows up the support beams at the drive-in theatre on its very last night of operation, killing two people and injuring others when the heavy screen collapses on the cars in the very front row. By date and time of day, this too has a 23 connection, but Weaver doesn’t know about that until later.

The climax comes in the final book, on Memorial Day, which I have to tell you is May 23, because why would Canadian readers know that. Suddenly scores of people are stricken with a strange malady resulting In vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and eventual death. The hospital is swamped and no one can figure out why. This is Duckworth’s turn as narrator, though the other two still have their third person POV chapters.

Each book is part of the larger 23 plot, which eventually gets resolved, but each also has one or more mysteries of its own, which are dealt with in that book and focus more specifically on either Harwood, Weaver or Duckworth.

Barclay has apparently decided that he likes these characters, and this setting, and has returned to use Cal Weaver in two stand-alone mysteries. Harwood has also been used in a book that predates this trilogy. That’s not surprising, as Barclay has created several series in the past, including the lighter and more humorous Zack Walker novels, and two about the Archer family.

 

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Bookends: What Happens After the End? December 28, 2018

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Bookends: What Happens After the End?

By Dan Davidson

January 16, 2018

After Life

– 790 words –

 

 

Afterlife

By Marcus Sakey

Thomas & Mercer

302 pages

$22.95

 

We meet the villain of this piece on page 1. He is Edmund. It is the year 1532 and he is about to become so much more than the man he is when we first meet.

As the surviving sailor on a becalmed ship, Edmund finally makes it to land, where he dies. And then … he is in another place, an afterlife stranger than any that had been suggested to him by the church. There are creatures there, dangerous demons. He manages to kill one of them and is reborn as a result, reborn with the power to enter other beings, creatures or humans, and to begin to amass the power that will make him a major player in the various worlds that he is able to visit.

He feeds on pain and distress and has the means to cause a lot of it, possessing the bodies of still living creatures and people and bending them to do his bidding.

In the present day, a killer is stalking Chicago. The FBI’s Will Brody is one of many people trying to track down the killer. Brody is in a relationship with FBI agent Claire McCoy, the person who has had to be the face of the investigation for the television cameras. She is his superior, so they are not supposed to be together. We spend enough time with them to establish the depth of the relationship before Brody gets killed investigating a sighting of the killer, who has progressed from rifles to bombs, in a church.

And then he wakes up in another place, which looks just like the one where he died, facing a group of hard eyed persons with machetes who seem intent on killing him – again.  The ex-Marine takes some damage before he manages to dispose of one of his attackers. The others flee and Brody discovers that all his injuries have healed and he is suddenly a powerhouse.

He meets peaceful others just like him, also deceased before their natural time, those who have determined not to gain power by killing in this afterlife, and learns the rules of this shadow dimension.

They can survive there, walking among the haunts of the living without touching them, being seen, seeing or affecting them. Eventually they will fade and go … somewhere else … to some other level of the afterlife. But if they succumb to the urge to kill others, they will become addicted to the power transfer.

Meanwhile, back in our reality, Claire has managed to track down the killer, who seems to be an ordinary little man, until he blows himself and her up in his home and emerges from the dust, taller, stronger and whole. Just as she is whole.

She and Brody have both been having flashes of awareness of each other since his death, and his have led him to where she has confrontation with the being who has inhabited Simon Tucks. He arrives in time to save her from Edmund, but that’s just the beginning of a new adventure for both of them.

The evil dead have never been organized until Edmund arrives among them. His goal is to dominate this half-life dimension, and this threatens everyone else who is there. They have to find a way to overcome his power.

It falls to Claire and Will to find a way back to actual life, and then to work their way through the various dimensional levels until they achieve their aim of dealing with the being they originally pursued when they thought he was just an ordinary serial killer.

What starts out as a blend of police procedural and thriller turns into a metaphysical romp through layered dimensions in search of answers and solutions. How it is all resolved turns out to be a bit of a surprise, but it works.

Parts of this book reminded me very strongly of a graphic novel from the early 2000s called Midnight Nation, written by J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) and illustrated by Gary Frank.  There’s also a bit of What Dreams May Come(1978), a supernatural tour de force by Richard Matheson, which was made into a fairly trippy Academy Award winning film. starring Robin Williams, of the same name in 1998.

I don’t mention these to disparage Sakey’s work in any way. This book was a good read, and if you’d like something similar, these others will reward you. All are still available.

According to his website, both this book and a trilogy called Brilliance are due to be turned into movies. Should be interesting.

 

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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller? April 17, 2018

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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller?

By Dan Davidson

December 28, 2017

– 806 words –

 

Bellvue SquareBellevue Square

By Michael Redhill

272 pages

Doubleday Canada

$32.00

 

Some time after he had achieved genre superstardom as a writer of thrillers and horror novels, Stephen King got out the drafts of his earlier unpublished novels, rewrote them, and issued them under the name of Richard Bachman. He’s not quite clear on why he used a pseudonym for these books, which sold only moderately well until some sharp-eyed reader outed him and then they sold much better.

Eventually he ended the career of his alter-ego, who had had his own author photo and fake biography on the back of each book, saying that he died of cancer of the pseudonym. He would later revisit the consequences of this action in the novel The Dark Halfand the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden”.

J.K. Rowling walked a similar path after the Harry Potter books, producing a series of detective novels under the name of Richard Galbraith. She was outed before the first one appeared, but has continued to use that name for her Cormoran Strike mysteries (four so far).

Trevor Ferguson has written some books in the Detective Emile Cinq-Mars series of mysteries (five so far) under the pen name of John Farrow, while pursuing literary fiction under his own name.

Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well. There are two plays, four volumes of poetry, four literary novels and four mysteries, the latter under the name Inger Ash Wolfe. The choice of name and gender reverses the more normal publication practice of women hiding behind men’s names.

The present book, which is a psychological thriller of the unreliable narrator variety, begins by introducing us to Jean Mason, an independent bookshop owner in Toronto, in an area near Kensington Market.

It begins, “My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April” and it continues to get much stranger after that. One of her regular customers tells her that he has just seen her in the nearby park, but that somehow she has managed to change her clothes and get a haircut in about 15 minutes.

Thus begins Jean’s obsessive quest to find this other woman, a quest which leads her to spend hours each day staking out the park and making the acquaintance of its denizens, many of whom are, to say the least, eccentric. So is she, as we slowly begin to realize.

That, however, is far from all in terms of plot twists, for it develops that almost everything we have learned about Jean and a number of the people around her, are not things that will pass the test of objective reality. And from that point in the book, we are left wondering just what parts of what comes next are real and which are parts of a delusional psychosis that sometimes has Jean institutionalized and sometimes has her moving about freely.

Is there a doppelganger or isn’t there? Does she look almost exactly like Jean? It that person named Inger Ash Wolfe, and has she been the author of four mystery novels? And if you’re beginning to sense something odd here, go back to the paragraph that begins with the words: “Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well.” and check out his pen name.

It’s a spooky story, and at the end of it, when the police sit down with Jean and ask her to give her full name, you’re going to be left wondering, as I was, just what she might have said in reply.

This book got a lot of press notice this year, Aside from being the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it was a #1 National Bestseller, a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017, a National Post Best Book of 2017, a Kobo Best Book of 2017 and a NOW Magazine Best Book of 2017.

I don’t know that I’d agree with everything the 2017 Giller Prize Jury  had to say about it, but it’s worth quoting as part of this review:

“To borrow a line from Michael Redhill’s beautiful Bellevue Square, ‘I do subtlety in other areas of my life.’ So let’s look past the complex literary wonders of this book, the doppelgangers and bifurcated brains and alternate selves, the explorations of family, community, mental health and literary life. Let’s stay straightforward and tell you that beyond the mysterious elements, this novel is warm, and funny, and smart. Let’s celebrate that it is, simply, a pleasure to read.”

I agree with the last sentence, but have to tell you that I was intrigued by Redhill’s other literary life, and picked up a copy of The Calling, the first of his Hazel Micallefmysteries. My next column will be about that book.

 

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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source

By Dan Davidson

December 13, 2017

– 718 words –

Savior's Game

By Sean Chercover

Thomas & Mercer

272 pages

$10.49

There are lots of disadvantages to coming in on the third volume of a trilogy. From the clues in this book, it appears that in The Trinity Game andThe Devil’s Game, Daniel Byrne, a former investigator for a secret Branch of the Vatican, in charge of authenticating miracles, has undergone a crisis of faith. After debunking 721 such events over a ten-year period, case number 722 turned out to be something different.

It involved Daniel’s uncle, an ecclesiastical con man named Tim Trinity who called himself a Reverend, and who suddenly began to manifest actual precognitive powers. Eventually these seem to be accounted for by a mysterious mental virus, which causes people to have visions and eventually become mad and catatonic. They call it the Plague.

This problem continues into book two, which introduces a couple of secret organizations. Daniel is recruited by the Foundation to work against the Council, which seems to have plans for world domination, but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the Council’s chief agent. Along the way, he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the Plague, beginning with what he believes to be auditory hallucinations.

Along with the doctor who had assisted him in the second book he drops out of sight, changes his name, and seeks to understand what might be happening to him. By the time we join the story in book three, he and his partner have had to separate to remain hidden, and Daniel has begun to have visions to go with the voices he has been hearing.

He learns, from his previous allies in the Foundation, that the Plague, which they have renamed AIT (Anomalous Information Transfer) is spreading, and that thousands have been infected, more each week.

Gaining some level of control over his visions, he finds himself able to visit what seems to be an alternate reality, one in which things seem to be more real than the reality he has always known. He meets the woman who goes with the voice he has been hearing and learns that this other place had been experiencing a population growth that matches the spread of AIT.

Visitors refer to the place as the Source. This used to be a friendly place, but lately it has come to be dominated by one individual, who has a vast amount of the “magical” energies (teleportation, other mental abilities, manifestation of objects and food, among other things) that every one seems to possess to some degree in this place.

This individual has used his abilities to create a massive tower, and seems to have enslaved most of the other visitors to the place, using their – I almost want to write “worship”, though that’s not quite the right term. They are in an addictive, meditative state.

This man has come to think of himself as a god-like being, and he intends to harness the power of AIT to extend his control from the Source into the real world, which he considers to be just a pale facsimile of the world he controls.

Daniel has to come up with ways to survive in both worlds, stop the AIT plague which threatens to overtake most of humanity, and stop a plot to plunge the world into a devastating conflict which will further the plans of the being who calls himself Noah.

From what I’ve written you’ll get the impression that this is an oddly shaped book, one which partakes of some features of the action thriller genre, while other parts seem more akin with something out of Dr. Strange. To some degree there’s a touch of the Matrix here, or that Christopher Nolan film, Inception.

From the Amazon.ca descriptions of the first two books (which I admit to mining for this review), I would venture that they have far less of the mumbo-jumbo/alternate reality flavour than does this final volume. If this whole story line intrigues you, might want to pick up used or Kindle editions of the first two books (available for around $2 each). I got enough out of book three to be content without doing that.

 

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Bookends: Fairy Tales Just might be the Truth in Disguise March 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, D.J. McIntosh, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Fairy Tales Just might be the Truth in Disguise

By Dan Davidson

November 29, 2017

– 833 words –

 

The Book of Stolen Tales

Book of Stolen Tales

By D.J. Mcintosh

Kindle edition

$14.99

432 pages

Penguin Canada

$16.00

 

D.J. Mcintosh’s The Book of Stolen Tales is the second volume in what she calls The Mesopotamian Trilogy It owes something in its construction to the works of Dan Brown and James Rollins. The difference is that her protagonist, John Madison, is no specialist. Browns Robert Langdon is a symbologist and Rollins’ characters are from a team of specialists with military as well as academic backgrounds.

Madison, who tells us his own story, is basically flying by the seat of his pants. He’d built a career in dealing in antiquities by piggybacking on the work on his much older and better educated brother. Now that Samuel is dead, killed in that car accident for which John is still under suspicion, he’s had to change careers, dealing more now in old books and taking on commissions for other people.

This book begins, as those in this genre do, with events that took place some time earlier (during the Iraq War, in fact) and which have roots that go back even farther in time.

Madison’s part of the story begins with his arrival in London to bid on a rare 17th century book for a client. He accomplishes his task, but is accosted in his hotel room that night by a man who calls himself Alessio, who seems to have a strange mesmeric power, and the book is stolen from him. Not, however, before he had had a change to open the box which was supposed to contain a number of individually bound chapters, only to find that most of them are missing.

He reports the problem to the auction house, which disclaims any knowledge of the incomplete item.

Wandering the streets in despair and confusion, he encounters the stranger again, and once more falls victim to his power, but them the man falls in to the Thames and appears to drown. The man had claimed to be the author of this 370 year old book, which had been filled with strange text and incredible, but horrible, illustrations. Madison new he would somehow have to track down all the missing parts to get himself off the hook and satisfy his own curiosity.

This leads him to the partner of the man who had hired him, and to some details about their bookshop and their printing business. He learns more about the book, which purports to contain the original versions of may well known fairy tales and legends, versions that predate the renderings by the Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault or Andrew Lang. From the printer he gains the knowledge that the tales are intended to be allegories and perhaps even formulae for telling about real events

Meanwhile – in the United States – a number of men who had been doing some archaeological research in Iraq, have come down with, and are dying from, an extremely virulent disease. Chapter 9 introduces us to this subplot and to the third person narrative through the eyes of Nick Shaheen, and agent of a covert US agency who has been tapped to find out what it was that those men had been exposed to that could have made them so ill.

We spend the next several chapters with Shaheen, whose inquiries eventually lead him to shadow Madison.

Madison tracks the book down to its original (in this century, at least) owner and becomes involved with a woman named Dina, who is apparently being held captive by this man, who feels that he in a legitimate heir to the throne of Italy. Dina, it emerges, has been stealing the chapters of the book and selling them in order to finance her escape from her captor, Mancini.

Shaheen and Madison eventual end up working together, Shaheen providing the more physical skills that Madison lacks, while it is Madison who unlocks the various puzzles that lead them to another of those mysterious underground tombs that are so prevalent in this type of book.

In the tomb there are artefacts which, it seems, contain items that were used to store a very old and very deadly contagion. Some people want them for their own nefarious purposes; Shaheen works for a agency that would like to both control and suppress it. He has other ideas.

There is an ongoing tension between the two men, with neither quite trusting the other, but that works to keep the book interesting.

I felt this second book worked better than the first, The Witch of Babylon. Madison was more focussed in this book and seemed to be less at the mercy of others. He’s less mercenary about his own motives and better able to cope with the situations in which he finds himself. He was a more likeable fellow, enough so that I will move on to the third book before to many months have passed.

 

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Bookends: Tales of Bold Adventurers March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tales of Bold Adventurers

By Dan Davidson

September 27, 2017

– 833 words –

This column is about two fairly similar characters, whose adventures shared some common elements and who appeared in print at close to the same time.

 

The Saint in New York

The Saint in New York copy

by: Leslie Charteris

Narrated by John Telfer

Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins

Unabridged Audiobook

Audible Studios

Print Length: 292 pages

Published in 1935

 

Leslie Charteris first gave us the character of Simon Templar, The Saint, in 1928, in a book originally called Meet the Tiger. Writing until 1963, he would produce about 100 books featuring the character, and would authorise its continued use by a number of other writers after that. The character was the lead item in a monthly magazine for decades and, of course, has been portrayed on screen by Roger Moore (his best role, in my opinion), Ian Ogilvie and Val Kilmer (probably the least successful version), as well as some lesser known older movies.

Most of the books, which I used to own in paperback editions, were short story or novella collections, three to eight stories in a book. There were a few novels, and The Saint in New York was probably the most famous.

In most of the stories, Templar is a good-hearted thief or con-man, usually carrying out his capers at the expense of “the ungodly”, as he often referred to the really bad people on whom the preyed.

This one’s a little different. He is hired by a very rich American to clean up New York as revenge for the killing of this man’s son. In this case, cleaning up actually refers to a series of targeted assassinations.

Charteris wrote the Saint as a larger than life individual, very savvy, very robust, almost a comic book character in terms of his stamina and ability to get out of scrapes and turn the tables on his foes.

This is a fast paced adventure with quite a few twists and turns as he pursues the “Big Fellow” who is the anonymous criminal kingpin, working his way through the pecking order and eliminating them one by one.

The police are baffled by this one man anti-gang war, and the one officer we spend narrative time with is sorely tempted to let it continue, though he is annoyed that he can’t have a hand in it, and actually does strike up a deal with the Saint part way through the story.

There are a couple of close calls in the book and Simon is saved at least twice by the intervention of the mysterious Fay Edwards, who has taken a shine to him, even though she is the Big Fellow’s mouthpiece.

John Telfer gives this one a good reading.

 

Versus the BaronVersus the Baron copy

Written by John Creasey as Anthony Morton

Narrated by: Philip Bird

Length: 4 hrs and 41 mins

Paperback: 162 pages

Unabridged Audiobook

Audible Studios

 

John Creasey gave us 44 books about John Mannering, The Baron, beginning in 1937. These were just some of the 600 plus books that he wrote, using 28 different pen-names. The Baron and The Toff were two characters that bore some resemblance to Simon Templar.

Mannering started out as more or less a cat burglar who left a calling card. Initially, he was a thief who preyed on the upper classes, those who could afford to lose jewels and other priceless objects, but as he built up a considerable fortune of his own, he parlayed his loot into honest cash and no longer needed to activate his alter-ego.

When he does so in this book, published in 1940, it’s because he, as Mannering, was almost suckered into being a receiver of stolen goods. When the man he was to have bought them from is murdered, he decides to come to the rescue of that man’s daughter and her fiancée.

He also cooperates with the police. Several members of the force are positive that he is the Baron, but they have never been able to tie him to anything, They make it very clear that he, as Mannering, can be involved in this case, but if any trace of the Baron shows up (not that he ever admits to that) they will be after him.

In the process of helping the girl he, as Mannering, is captured by the head of a criminal gang. This unsavoury individual also has the girl, and Mannering has a hard time staging an escape for both of them, after escaping once on his own and coming back for her later.

The Baron is less of a superman than the Saint, and has to work much harder at what he does, but they are cut from a similar pattern, one whose template I trace back to the character of A.J. Raffles, a fictional gentleman thief in a series of books by E. W. Hornung, written between 1898 and 1909, and therefore likely to have influenced both Charteris and Creasey.

Philip Bird gave this book a solid reading.

 

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