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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



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achieved genre superstardom as a writer of thrillers and horror novels, Stephen King got out the drafts of his earlier unpublished novels, rewrote them, and issued them under the name of Richard Bachman.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.






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

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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


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.



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


432 pages

Penguin Canada



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.






Bookends: Tales of Bold Adventurers March 1, 2018

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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.





Bookends: A Serial Rapist Steps up His Game March 1, 2018

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Drowned Girls

Bookends: A Serial Rapist Steps up His Game

By Dan Davidson

August 30, 2017

– 829 words –

 The Drowned Girls

By Loreth Anne White

Montlake Romance

512 pages


When Detective Angie Pallorino decided to scratch her sexual frustration itch by resorting to a one-night (well, part of a night) stand with a hunky stranger in the bar where she usually goes to solve this problem, she had no idea that the man would turn out to be her new partner/superior the very next day.

The same could be said of former RCMP officer James Maddocks, who actually went to that bar looking for a friend of his, but could not resist the offer this woman was making when his buddy didn’t show up. It’s not certain who was more surprised the next day.

White presents us these characters in alternating chapters in which the pair reflect on events that we have already seen from one or the other’s point of view.

Pallorino has a lot of issues. She is somewhat estranged from her father. Her mother is in a care home, suffering from dementia, and Angie is worried that it might be part of her genetic heritage. In addition, she lost a partner in the on the force a while back while they were investigating a case in which there seemed to be a man committing serial sexual assaults. She hasn’t really recovered from the PTSD of that case. To top it all off, she is viewed negatively by a lot of her peers and people don’t really want to work with her. She has avoided long term relationships most of her life, and especially since her partner’s death, but she is strongly attracted to Maddocks.

Maddocks, on the other hand, has left the Mounties and signed on with this city police force is order to be closer to his daughter, from whom he is somewhat estranged as a result of the ongoing divorce proceedings with his wife. He has settled for a job at a lesser rank than he had with the RCMP in order to deal with his family issues. He was not looking for a relationship and has never been one to seek casual sex before (it was that job that cost him his marriage), but he finds Angie hard to resist.

The perpetrator Pallorino was trying to find two years earlier seemed to have stopped his spree – which is unusual – until a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, with a distinctive cross etched into her forehead. That’s not quite enough to ring bells, but when the body of a drowned young woman, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, floats up in the Gorge, the hunt for a serial rapist become a hunt for a killer.

Pallorino desperately wants to get onto the homicide squad, and her background history with this case means that her superiors agree with her on that, but the awkward part is that she is partnered with Maddocks. Both of them have trouble being a properly functioning team because of their attraction to each other. There are some incidents where this becomes really difficult.

There are some other points of view in this story. One of them is that of the rapist/killer himself, who has a definitely delusional/religious take on why he is acting out. He started by just assaulting women and them marking them with a cross symbol, rather than carving it into their skin, to absolve them of what he perceived to be their sins. Eventually this accelerated to more extreme measures.

In his earlier phase there are some victims that the police don’t know about, because they never reported the assault for one reason or another, One of these was a former street person and addict, who straightened out her life and became a reporter after she survived the assault. Several chapters are from her point of view and she contributes a number of vital clues to the case during her interactions with Pallorino.

Loreth Anne White is an award-winning, bestselling author of romantic suspense, thrillers, and mysteries who lives in the Pacific Northwest. While she has worked in Canada, according to her bio, and is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada, the vagueness of her address suggests she lives in the USA. From what I can see of her other output, her most recent books follow this habit of mixing genres. (Earlier ones show a lot of bodice ripping, bare chested romance covers.) This one certainly fits under the outer edge of the publishing umbrella of Montlake Romance, and several of her other books seem to have a similar genre mystery/thriller/romance mix.

This is the first volume in a series. While the case was solved, there were lots of personal loose ends left untied in The Drowned Girls, and I expect some of these to be tied off in The Lullaby Girl, due out in November.




Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End February 16, 2018

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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End

By Dan DavidsonEnd of wATCH

July 10, 2017

– 888 words.


End of Watch

By Stephen King


$14.16 (paperback)

$10.99 (Kindle)

448 pages


In at least one previous book, Rage, first published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman, Stephen King described a high school shooting spree. He wrote it in the early 1970s and it was published in 1977, before such things became nearly annual horror shows. Not surprisingly, there were people, who want to blame this sort of behaviour on anything other than the vast American home arsenals just waiting to be misused, who blamed the book for inspiring such atrocities. In response, King allowed the novel to go out of print.

I have to hope that the Bill Hodges trilogy won’t meet the same fate. End of Watch brings the Hodges saga to a satisfying conclusion, but adds a touch of the paranormal that was not present in Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, both of which were pretty much mundane mysteries with a touch of the thriller genre mixed in.

It’s the set-up sequence in each novel that might give the books a bad reputation. In each of the books, people are dealing the ramifications of Brady Hartsfield’s decision to steal a lonely woman’s Mercedes automobile and drive it into the midst of a large group of victims waiting in line for a chance at a job fair.

We have recently had a spate of these activities in England, France and other European countries, but I don’t think you can blame them on King. He didn’t invent the idea. There were such cases in he USA, and at least one in Canada, before he wrote the first book.

The killings in the book were inspired by an actual event which had taken place at a McDonald’s restaurant. King ramped up the body count and spent quite a bit of the book guiding us through the mad mind of the killer, who followed up his original evil deed by taunting the poor woman whose car he had used until she killed herself.

His big mistake was going on to taunt former homicide detective Hodges, who had been unable to solve the case before he retired. Energized by the attack conducted by telephone and e-mail trickery, Hodges, along with some young associates, does solve the case, and Hartsfield is institutionalized with brain damage as a result.

The book won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award in 2015.

Finders Keepers ,which is the name of Hodges’ private eye practice, goes off in an entirely different direction, but still deals with people whose lives were impacted (sorry, couldn’t resist) by the original crime, which is recapped from a different point of view in the opening chapter.

End of Watch returns to the villain of the first book, whose brain has been altered by the events of his capture, and by some very unethical experiments that one of the doctors tending him has been conducting. Hartsfield slowly discovers he has the ability to project his consciousness into the mind of a person who has been slightly hypnotized by a certain frequency of flashing lights. Eventually he is able to control such persons – first a slow witted hospital orderly, and eventually the doctor – and walk around using them as his meat puppets.

Add to this the discovery that a certain brand of defective hand-held video games can emit this frequency, lure victims to log on to a special website, and thus extend his reach beyond his sick room, and Hartsfield is ready to take his revenge on the people who stopped him when he attempted to be a suicide at a boy band rock concert several years earlier. He arranges to buy up a stock of the units and us them to target people who are connected to Hodges and his young friends, people who were his immediate targets at that concert. There is a sudden spate of suicides and it takes a while for Hodges to make the connection.

Hodge is distracted by the fact that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he does not want to die, having found fulfillment in his new career, he is more worried about his autistic partner, Holly, who has blossomed so much while working with him.

He has always suspected that there was more to Hartsfield than the seeming vegetable in that hospital bed, but getting anyone else to think seriously about his suspicions is an uphill battle. Finally his old partner does offer some encouragement, but even that is limited. By this time Hartsfield has left his original body, which dies, and is fully in the mind and body of the neurosurgeon whose unethical use of drugs has boosted his powers of telepathy and telekinesis.

Hartsfield’s attempts to draws Hodges into his plot so he can mind control him as he has done his other victims backfire in the same way as in the first book, but with far more terminal results.

The title has a number of possible meanings, and most of the ones I can think of fit the story well. So, I do hope the books don’t do out of print, and this is a trilogy that make a good set of movies.



Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody February 16, 2018

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Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody

By Dan Davidson

July 19, 2017

– 810 words –


The Girl on the Train

By Paula HawkinsGirl on the Train

Doubleday, Canada

317 pages



Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller has a deliberately unfocussed title font, set against the kind of blurred background you’d get if you were sitting in a moving vehicle and just letting the scenery flow past your eyes without trying to actually look at it.

That’s very fitting, since Rachel, the most frequent of the three first person women whose lives are revealed to us, has a pretty fuzzy memory. Rachel is the titular “girl” on the train, the train on which she travels to London town every day, past the row of flats where she once lived with her ex-husband, where he now lives with his new wife, Anna and baby girl.

In the same block of flats there lives a couple whose names she doesn’t know, but she calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines what seems to be their perfect life together. Like many of the things she imagines, there’s a large dose of illusion there.

Rachel is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, a type that has become very popular since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The narrator may be unreliable, like the married couple in that book, because they are doing it on purpose, or just because they leave things out. In that sense, the first person narrator in Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an early example of the type. He leaves out all the things that would allow you to realize he is the murderer.

(I’m surely not spoiling the ending of a book published in 1926.)

Rachel is a nasty blackout drunk, subject to fits of rage and a foggy memory of her actions when she’s been drinking. She is also hiding things, both from us and from the good girl friend with whom she has been living since her marriage to Tom broke up.

“Jess and Jason” are really Megan and Scott, and she is the second narrator in the novel, her segments complicated by the fact that they begin 14 months before Rachel’s and end just a few days after that narrative begins. I admit to being several chapters into the book before I realized there were two different time lines to be aware of.

Megan has a number of secrets in her life that emerge as the story continues. One of her teachers once called her a mistress of reinvention. She reinvents to escape her pain, carried over from past events that are only revealed to the others after she is gone.

Tom went on to marry Anna, who is the third of the narrators in this novel. Anna has had secrets in her time. Indeed, after the beginning of Rachel’s mental and alcohol related breakdown, she became the “other woman” in Tom’s life and helped to bring about the end of their decaying marriage. She’s not entirely secure in her new life, has some difficulties dealing with her baby daughter and isn’t really comfortable in the house where Rachel was once the chatelaine.

The book begins with a significant teaser, as seen by Rachel on her morning commute: “There’s a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.”

While it’s not what we think it might be when we learn, later on, that there has probably been a murder, it is a hint that all may not be what it seems, and Rachel’s reaction is revealing.

“My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination. Tom said that too, I can’t help it. I catch sight of those discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt and a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe, and the feet that fitted into them.”

She’s like that with her views of other peoples’ relationships. She assumes things. She is a troubled soul. She hasn’t been able to let go of Tom in her head and heart, and is still reaching out, nearly two years later. When something seems to be wrong in her vision of “Jess and Jason” and she learns that Megan is missing, she tries to insinuate herself into that situation, convincing herself that she’s trying to help Scott, who is suspected of having killed his wife.

There’s a complicated web of relationships linking Scott, Megan, Tom, Ann and Rachel, and because of the way the story is told, with each narrative sequence related in chronological order, sequences overlap sometimes and we both gain advantage and are misdirected by this device.

This was an engaging novel, and I’m not surprised that it is already a motion picture. Why they moved the setting from London to New York is beyond me, but perhaps it will make sense when I see the film some day.




Bookends: A Thriller about Personal Redemption February 16, 2018

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Bookends: A Thriller about Personal Redemption

By Dan Davidson

July 5, 2017

– 761 words –


Anya Unbound

Anya Unbound


Friesen Press

376 pages


Sean Carson certainly wasn’t expecting to see a young girl in ragged clothing darting through the bush as he drove back to his rural cabin on the Pike Lake Road near the Teslin River. It was fall, and the light wasn’t that good. At first he wondered if it was a Sasquatch, but when he stopped his truck and she came out of the woods, brandishing a stick as a weapon, he a saw a girl in her mid to late teens, quite banged up and speaking English with a foreign accent.

He coaxed her into his truck and took her to his cabin, where they communicated a little; he helped her clean up, got her something to eat, and eventually settled her in his spare room.

Sean is himself a troubled soul, still recovering from the sudden death of his wife and daughter just a few years earlier while they were at an outfitters’ convention in Las Vegas. Outfitting remains Sean’s business. Though he seems to have lots of money and doesn’t really need to work, he prefers to, so the vehicles and the airplane that play a large part in this story come naturally to him, does all the shopping in the quieter parts of the book.

Anya, for that is the girl’s name, is from Poland, lured to North America by false promises of immigration and a job by a sex trafficking ring, along with a dozen other girls. They were all being transported to Alaska in a semi-trailer rig when Anya, with the help of her good friend, Kaiza, managed to escape. Not long after that, she came across Sean.

Sean already had some familiarity struggling against sex trade operations from his experiences in Cambodia, where he had gone after spending 10 months on a kibbutz in Israel, trying to find some meaning for his life after his loss.

What he found, in his travels, was the rediscovery of his Christian faith. This is a thriller style novel and an adventure. It does deal with the nasty subject I’ve already mentioned, and there’s lots of action, particularly since the sex traders don’t give up easily. What may surprise some readers is the amount of prayer and simple theology that Carruthers has managed to sneak into the story.

I haven’t encountered quite so much of this since the Danny Orlis YA novels I read back in my teens. Bernard Palmer did write some good tales, but he eventually got way too preachy and the stories got buried by the messages. Carruthers doesn’t make that mistake and manages to tread a careful line between spiritual redemption and adventure.

Anya’s captors manage to track her down and recapture her while she is staying with Sean’s lady friend, Reina, in Whitehorse, and this leads Sean on a merry chase that might not have happened otherwise. He ends up freeing all the girls from the slavers temporary base at the abandoned village of Snag, not far from Beaver Creek, and everyone takes refuge with the good (fictional) people who operate the book’s version of the White River Lodge.

There’s a lot in the book: an assault on the Lodge; a mid-winter trek by dogsled; a wedding; a honeymoon in Hawaii; an arrest and serious legal trouble in Alaska; the mechanics of seeking refugee status and new homes for all the kidnapped girls; even a postscript to the main story that covers a decade or two.

The real core of the story, though, is about that “unbinding” referred to in the title. Sean has a lot of issues in his life that are fixed, to some extent, by his crusade on behalf of Anya and the girls, Without Anya’s influence on Sean, the marriage would have taken much longer to occur. Without Reina’s assistance, and the help of Sheila and Sam at the lodge, the girls would never have made the transition from victims to healthy young women so quickly. Most impressive of all is the blossoming of Anya, who becomes the person that this one time Polish orphan would never have dreamed she could be.

So, while this may seem odd in a thriller that features a couple of outright murders and one justifiable homicide, not to mention the bending of a whole lot of national and international laws, this is very much a book about redemption, and it works very well as a story.





Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past February 15, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past

By Dan Davidson

June 22, 2017

– 728 words –


The Last Mile

The Last Mile

By David Baldacci

Narrated by Kyf Brewer and Orlagh Cassidy

11 hrs and 49 mins

Audible Download


Paperback edition

464 pages

Grand Central Publishing


IN the first of the Amos Decker series of mysteries, Memory Man, we met Amos, whose football injury had altered his brain to give him a perfect memory (Hyperthymesia) and synesthesia (cross connections between sensory inputs). Amos had been a police detective until the murders of his wife, daughter and brother-in-law had forced him into a deep depression. When we met him he was a down and out private eye, scraping the bottom of the client barrel.

The opportunity to solve the murders for which he had once been a suspect, and the introduction of a couple of new people into his life, reinvigorated him and set him on a path to being hired as a special consultant for an FBI cold case task force, along with Alexandra Jamison and team leader Special Agent Ross Bogart.

Book two picks up the story with Amos on his way to Quantico, where he will be working. He hears an item on the radio about convicted murderer Melvin Mars, who is scheduled to hang in a few days time. Mars is another football player who played against Decker in college and he is intrigued.

There are so many similarities between the Mars case and his own life that it just seems like fate is pushing him to look into it. Amos hates coincidences.

We have already met Mars by this point, since the first chapter, told from a slightly different time frame, introduced us to him very personally on what was to have been his last day of life. We know he is innocent and that he has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years.

We went back in time to get to Decker’s narrative. He does some quick research and brings the Mars’ case to the team after demolishing the rationale for the case that they had been assigned to, much to the annoyance of one of his more rule bound team mates, who resents the presence of these new non-agency personnel in an agency operation.

The team manages to get Mars’ execution postponed and begins the process of finding out what actually happened, This is complicated by the fact that another murderer, in another prison, suddenly confesses to the murder just prior to his own execution. It is further complicated by an attempt by some guards in Mars’ prison to arrange for his murder by a couple of other inmates. Mars is released under the supervision of the FBI team, then pardoned, then rearrested after Decker’ investigation reveals that the other confession was bought and paid for by persons unknown.

This raises a number of important questions. Who really murdered Mars’ parents all those years ago? Who were his parents, really? Why were they keeping such a low profile anyway? What did the fact that Mars was becoming a famous college football player with enormous prospects have to do with their deaths?

And that’s all I’m going to tell you. Read or listen to it for yourself if you’re curious.

Baldacci writes books with a lot of dialogue in them and with strong male and female characters. Brewer and Cassidy do a great job of dealing with the main characters and the supporting cast. It doesn’t require them to do a lot of voice changes. They manage with pitch and subtle shifts in regional accents, and it’s always clear who is talking.

The balance of contributions to the case is quite even. Decker brings his memory and years of work as a detective. Jamison was a relatively new reporter when she first met him, but she has great instincts, a way of reading people that he doesn’t (a side effect of his brain injury) and a dedication to truth as fixed as Decker’s.

While there is a lot of talking in this story, and a lot of internal reflection of Decker’s part, there is also a lot of action and suspense. It is a page turner of a book, or in my case, a story that really kept me from thinking about the many kilometres in my most recent trip to the city and back.




Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series

By Dan Davidson

April 26, 2017

– 866 words –


The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club

Tess Gerritsen

368 pages

Ballantine Books

Paperback $9.98

Kindle $9.39

Checking the online reactions to the Rizzoli and Isles series of novels, I find that many of the comments come from people who picked up the books because of the TV series. Many of those commentaries say they are disappointed with the books.

I’m not, though I came to them via the same path. The series is much more light-hearted than the books, and the characters are quite different. Jane, for instance, is married and has a child. She used to suffer from all sorts on insecurity, but that seems to have eased with her marriage.

Maura is much more serious and has a darker backstory, one involving a psychopathic birth mother. Among the police she is sometimes known as Dr. Death. She also has a questionable relationship with a local priest.

Kozak, Jane’s immediate YV superior, is retired, and has just started dating Jane’s mother, who has only just left her husband in this book, though they’ve be separated for years in the show.

Frost, who had to be written out of the show when the black actor who played the part died between seasons, is a white guy in the books.

On TV Frankie, Jane’s brother, has evolved into a worthwhile individual and has risen in the Boston Police Dept. In the books, he’s a total jerk.

This particular book seems to be trying to infuse the usual police procedural/thriller pattern with a supernatural twist.

There’s a series of bizarre murders, made stranger by the occult serial killer symbolism that is attached to them, and the fact that they ultimately seem to be directed at an international group of armchair sleuths who call themselves the Mephisto Club.

The members believe in the reality of evil, and that there is a certain hereditary line of humans that stretches back to Biblical times, and is determined to prepare the way for a very real coming of Satan.

Jane and Maura think this is claptrap, but they get caught up in it nevertheless and end up in one of those secluded mansions that feature in so many spooky thrillers. It’s the Christmas season, the weather is terrible, and things almost go rather badly.

Yes, that’s a spoiler, but the journey is more than half the pleasure in this book, and there are a number of other plot threads that I haven’t mentioned which will reward your reading pleasure.


Saint DeathSaint Death

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

292 pages in print

Kindle Edition

Amazon Digital Services LLC



Mark Dawson has been churning out books at a fabulous rate every since he discovered Amazon’s self-publishing platform. The John Milton series has ten books so far and he’s got several others under way. I wonder if he’s inspired by the record of John Creasey, who used to put out several books and several different series, under different names, every year during his career.

In the second of these books, Milton, a former British secret service hit man who has walked away from his job, has been on the run, quite successfully, for some six months. He’s left England and has been working his way north from South America until he has landed in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.

Along the way he’s been finding occasions to work on his personal redemption by helping people, earning his living as an itinerant cook.

Juarez is a hotbed of drug related crime, as well as being littered with the bodies of sexually abused girls and terrified police officers. The media are uniformly frightened into silence except for a group of crusading bloggers. When Santa Muerta (Saint Death) and his crew arrive at the greasy spoon where Milton is working, aiming to murder the bloggers and their interview subject, Milton kills all but one of them, saves the female blogger, and inspires one of the local police to stand up to the cartel.

Milton joins forces with an American bounty hunter, who is being paid by the Mafia to take out Saint Death, in order to use his connections to get the young woman to safety in the USA.

Things go sideways and Milton is forced to improvise, at least partly because his former boss, known as Control, has sent a squad to capture him and bring him home. As it turns out, this works in his favour.

I’ve enjoyed the two books I’ve read. They’re light action reading. My main objection to them is the way their promotional material keeps trying to piggyback on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Except that they have an implacable main character who tries to help people, they don’t have much in common. They have a different style of writing, a different use of narrative viewpoints, and Dawson seems to suffer a lot more damage than Reacher.

In addition, there seem to be some continuing characters among the Brits that I expect to keep seeing again. One of two of them actually seem to be developing some sympathy for their erstwhile comrade, and it will be interesting to see how that develops.