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Bookends: The Resurrection of Derrick Storm February 7, 2016

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Bookends: The Resurrection of Derrick StormStorm Front

By Dan Davidson

October 7, 2015

– 852 words –

 

Storm Front

By Richard Castle

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Unabridged: 10 hrs and 36 mins

Hyperion Audiobooks

320 pages in print editions

 

In the television series Castle, Richard Castle is a successful and very wealthy writer of thrillers and murder mysteries who has based his second successful series of books on the life and cases of the woman who is his wife, NYPD detective Kate Beckett. In the books she is Nikki Heat and he is Jameson Rook.

In the real world the owners of the series, the ABC network, have done what they did for the Murder She Wrote series some years ago and have produced a series of novels, the ones that keep getting mentioned on the TV show, and have released them, to considerable success, as if they were written by Richard Castle. They’ve been releasing one a year and are currently up to book 7 in the series.

Castle’s original success, however, was in James Bondish spy thrillers featuring a character called Derrick Storm, a complete list of whose actually never published adventures can be found on the Richard Castle Wikipedia page.

Castle went all Conan Doyle on Storm and bumped him off after 10 books – or did he?

The premise of this book and the three e-book novellas that came before it, is that he didn’t. Like Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, CIA operative Storm faked his death and went into hiding for four years, only recently emerging to take on some cases for his mysterious boss in a very Black Ops branch of the CIA.

We meet him in Venice, posing as a gondolier in order to trap a British civil servant about to give up some state secrets. That adventure is wrapped up pretty quickly, and we segue to the first of a series of brutal torture and murder scenes in Tokyo, London, and Johannesburg, during which a thoroughly nasty man with a Russian accent is extracting codes from a number of men who happen to be high level bankers and stock traders. Just what this is all about is something we will learn later.

Storm is tasked to attend a gathering in Paris and determine just what is going on with these deaths. While there he strikes up a relationship with a Chinese agent named (Ian Fleming would love it) Ling Xi Bang (yes – shebang).

On to London, where the pair find themselves on opposing sides in another murder investigation, an encounter which ultimately leads them to travel to the United States and uncover the work of an economist who has developed a theory that could lead to the world’s financial meltdown.

It emerges that there is a way to temporarily collapse the value of the US dollar, make a killing in the markets, and them put it all back together again. A New York hedge-fund manager by the name of G (for Graham – oh, why not?) Whitely Cracker has hired a villain named Gregor Volkov to obtain for him the six codes necessary to set this up. Cracker, meantime, has bribed a US Senator to get a bill passed that will limit the ability of the Federal Reserve system to counteract the plan he has in mind.

Volkov, of course, has his own plans for the windfall – no less than a coup to take over the government of Russia – and has gone completely off the rails.

To further complicate matters, an entirely separate CIA investigation, involving Storm’s old flame, Clara Strike, has been investigating Cracker for other reasons, but has no idea what he has actually been up to.

Further still, Cracker, an arrogant man who doesn’t realize how overbearing he is, has acquired a number of enemies on his climb to financial success, and one of them has been plotting his downfall for years.

There are very Bondish moments in this story: a hand to hand fight on an unfinished skyscraper, a chase through a subway tunnel, a car chase (with bullets and explosions) on a New Jersey turnpike; a stealth assault on a warehouse where hostages are being held, and a battle royal in a passenger jet.

There are a lot of fan service nods to the Castle TV show. Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook turn up at a murder scene in New York. Two of Storm’s boss’s aids share the names of the secondary detectives on Castle, and the now deceased captain of the precinct, Roy Montgomery, is name-checked.

While this feels a lot like the work of the creator behind the Nikki Heat books, it also has an entirely different flavour. The Heat books are like the TV show, police procedurals with a touch of romance. The sex scenes in this book are actually tamer than those between Rook and Heat, but the action is very much of the Bond and Bourne variety, and the book covers a lot more ground.

I don’t know if I would have enjoyed reading this book, but the audio production was well done and saw me there and back again on a recent trip to the city.

 

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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South

By Dan Davidson

September 23, 2015

– 923 words-

 

Natchez BurningNatchez Burning

By Greg Iles

Harper

865 pages

$12.50

 

When he’s not hanging out with Stephen King and playing garage band rock and roll as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders (they’re all writers) Greg Iles is busy turning his home town of Natchez, a small city of about 16,000 souls, into a place with as much mystery and intrigue as King’s beloved state of Maine.

Iles doesn’t play the supernatural card very often, though he did earlier in his career, but he does believe in the power of evil and is well aware of the ambivalence with which even good men sometimes find their way through the world.

Penn Cage, former prosecuting attorney, best-selling novelist, and currently (in the 2005 world of this book) the mayor of Natchez, is one of those men. He means well, but sometimes choses to let the end justify the means, and that doesn’t always work out for him.

While much of this book does take place in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina savaged New Orleans, its roots are in 1963, when racial bigotry caused the death of a fine old man who only wanted to run his music store and help some down and out young men find a career fixing and playing instruments.

One of those young men had the temerity to have an affair with the white girl, the daughter of a powerful white man connected to the Double Eagles, one of the more violent offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan. Albert Norris tried to hide that boy from Brody Royal’s vengeance and died a fiery death in payment.

That death, and a number of other race related murders, sit at the back of much of what goes on in this novel, and we’re never allowed to forget it for very long.

Cage’s immediate problem, however, is that his father, Dr. Tom, is being accused of having murdered the woman who was his faithful nurse for many years back in the 1960s, around the time of Norris’ murder. Viola, dying of cancer, had come back to Natchez from Chicago to ask her former boss (and we knew almost immediately that they must once have been lovers) to help her come to a more peaceful end.

Penn Cage has no qualms about euthanasia, He’s quite sure that his father eased his own wife’s passage to peace when the cancer was killing her, and he’s always been grateful for that, even if it left him a single parent for some years. Since then he has found a new love in Caitlin, the wealthy publisher of a local newspaper, and they are planning marriage, much to the delight of his pre-teen daughter.

But Viola did not go gentle into that good night. She died hard, and her final moments were caught on video tape. It’s 2005 and assisted suicide is still a crime in Natchez, Mississippi, but this is worse. It looks like murder, and Viola’s son, who might just also be Tom’s son, has come down from Chicago breathing fire and looking for several varieties of revenge. He says Tom murdered Viola.

To one side of all of this is Henry Sexton, a reporter at a smaller town’s paper. He was a young man mesmerized by Norris’ daughter in the 1960s, and he has always wanted to solve the spate of murders and disappearances that took place around that same time and bring the villains to justice.

Penn Cage is at the centre of this story, and his chapters are given to us in the first person and present tense. Iles uses a limited third person past tense narrative style to take us into the minds of his other central characters: Henry, Caitlin, Tom Cage, and various of the villains. It’s an effective strategy for broadening the reach of the storyteller, and Iles uses it well.

When I’m flying I need something to take my mind of the fact that I’m 30,000 odd feet in the air and that those bumps are not the wheels of my truck on a Yukon Highway. Sometimes the in-flight video system will do it for me. Sometimes writing a story on my iPad works the magic. But there’s nothing quite like a good book. With a really good book I can go to a place where a bit of turbulence is an annoyance because it keeps me from focusing on the page rather than causing me to get the chills.

Natchez Burning was one of those books. Over the course of half a dozen takeoffs and landings during my month away from home, Greg Iles deviously plotted legal thriller kept me company and helped to pass the time. I’d finished all but about 150 pages of its 865 by the time we got back home.

There have been several novels featuring Penn Cage, and others in which he is a peripheral character, since Iles stopped sight-seeing around the world and the nation and focussed his sights on his home town. This book has a lot of loose plot threads and is the beginning of a trilogy. Book two, The Bone Tree, is already out in hardcover. His website reports the third book nearly finished and that this book has been optioned for a cable TV series. While the 2005 portions of the book take place in less than a week, it would take a dozen or so episodes to do it justice.

 

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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination January 28, 2016

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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination

By Dan Davidson

June 24, 2015

– 797 words –

The Third BulletThird Bullet

by Stephen Hunter

Pocket Books

538 pages

$12.99

It’s a sign of how old Stephen Stills’ protest anthem, “For What it’s Worth” is, that it can now be used as the section headings in a thriller.

“There’s something happening here”

James Aptapton had no idea what sort of trouble he had got himself into when he started looking into the events of November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was killed. On the night that the Russian assassin in the high poweredApparently someone thought it would be too good a book. We’ll be a while learning just who that was.

“What it is ain’t exactly clear”

Bob Lee Swagger doesn’t want anything to do with the case that Aptapton’s wife
comes to Idaho to persuade him to take, but he becomes fascinated with it in spite of himself, because the book her husband had been going to work on dealt with a very old puzzle that that never set quite right with him.

It doesn’t hurt that as soon as he begins to poke around the clues that had inspired Aptapton, he finds himself the target of the same type of murder. Of course, because he’s expecting it, and because he is one of the best snipers ever trained, has survived to the age of 60+, and is very canny, things don’t work out well for the killer.

Travelling to Russia to track down why a Russian assassin would have been looking to kill him winds Swagger up in a whole bunch more trouble and provides him, though not us, with some essential clues. At this point he knows who must have actually shot Kennedy and has worked out a theory, based on his extensive knowledge of firearms and bullets, as to how it might have been done without leaving any evidence behind.

“There’s a man with a gun over there”

Now just where would that be? Why are the Russians involved? Where did the fatal bullet that finally killed Kennedy actually come from? Why is a thin tire mark on a hidden overcoat reeking of gun oil and found in the Daltex building, just down the street from the Texas Book Depository from which Oswald shot, significant?

It is in this third section of the book, more than half of the page count, that Swagger’s third person narrative begins to alternate with the first person memoirs of Hugh Meachum, a long retired and officially deceased CIA case officer, the man who ran Lee Harvey Oswald, recruited the real assassin, and actually masterminded the Kennedy assassination.

From here on we plunge into the past and follow Meachum’s narrative of what happened, how it was really all a bit of an accident until just a few days before the event. Meachum sees himself as a professional patriot and had set out to eliminate an entirely different person as a threat to national security, until fate dropped the Kennedy visit to Dallas right into the middle of his carefully worked out plot.

At the same time we are following Swagger’s progress in figuring it out, getting some pretty extensive technical lectures about rifles, scopes, suppressors and bullets, and yet, not actually being bored because there’s a lot going on and the past and present stories are coming together.

“Telling me I got to beware”

So we come to the denouement, brought to us in the final 30 or so pages of the book. It all comes together, but not quite the way case officer Meachum had planned. It’s quick but it doesn’t seem rushed, because we got there in such careful stages, but I’m not going to say very much about it.

The book concludes with Hunter’s 15 page analysis of why this theory works as a story, even if it might not be true. He also explains how tinkering with this idea years back actually led him to come up with the Swagger character in the first place and have him play the Oswald role (only with better results) in the first book of the series, Point of Impact, which later became the movie, Shooter.

Seven books and 10 years later, he decided to see what he could do with the actual Kennedy case. This was close to the same time that Stephen King was working on his massive time travel version in 11/22/63 and that book is referred to in this one.

They provide vastly different reading experiences but both books left me with the feeling that the writers had done a lot of work and had succeeded in telling a good story.

 

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor began February 18, 2015

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor beganUnwritten - Ship

By Dan Davidson

November 26, 2014

– 938 words –

 

The Unwritten:

Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Story by Mike Carey

Art layouts by Peter Gross

Finishes and colours by various artists

 

160 pages

$12.30

 

There have been 10 volumes collecting the ongoing story Carey and Gross have created in the Unwritten. If Thomas King is correct in his assertion that “all we are is stories” this series is the graphic adventure that deals with that concept directly. Volumes 1 to 9 collected the first 54 issues of the book, and a new sequence began with volume 10, containing the next five issues.

Tom Taylor is the real life son of Wilson Taylor, who has created and published 14 volumes in the saga of the boy wizard Tommy Taylor. The real Tom has Christopher Robin’s problem in relation to his fictional alter-ego. Like Christopher Milne, Tom grows up to hate the connection between himself and the fictional Tommy.

What we have been slowly coming to understand is that the connection in stronger than anyone might readily believe. Wilson was once an agent of a nameless cabal that attempts, quite successfully, to influence the way of the world by promoting the stories that influence how we, the public, think about things. This is all accomplished through the manipulation of something the cabal calls the Grid.

As Wilson became more aware of how the Grid worked he became repulsed by their machinations and decided to fight back. To that end he deliberately linked his son to a fictional creation and wrote a series of adventures which promoted belief in the character in ways that make “Frodo Lives” graffiti and earth-bound Quidditch matches seem quite tame by comparison.

He also programmed his son, using all manner of learning styles, including listening to stories while in a sensory deprivation tank, to be linked to the power of stories, so that the power of the Grid could be harnessed by him and focused to manifest itself as magic. Tom was unaware of this until years later, after his father had disappeared, leaving everyone waiting for the next installment of the Tommy books. It hasn’t been said yet, but one expects that this anticipation was part of Wilson’s grand plan.

Just after the break provided at the end of volume 9, Carey and Gross decided to provide us with a two strand graphic novel that did not appear as part of the regular monthly book. One strand of the story is the tale of how Wilson planned and wrote the first of the Tommy Taylor books, Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice. The other strand is a graphic novel presentation of that book.

In the Wilson sections we get a close look at his creative process, showing early drafts of the first book’s opening as he picks his way through the various fantasy tropes and decides which ones to use. At the same time we get a look at his domestic life; how Tom was conceived, how Wilson timed his release of the first book to coincide with Tom’s birth; how an entirely fictional mother was grafted into his life’s story while his real mother was cut out.

In Tommy’s story we learn of an orphan boy whose parents were two of the most powerful wizards in all the land, and of how they sacrificed their lives in order to keep a great evil from coming back into the world. This sacrifice also entailed taking from their baby son the legacy of the spark, his naturally inherited ability to channel magic, for they needed more power than the two of them had to stop the vampiric Count Ambrosio from returning to the mundane world. They did manage to save Tom’s life by causing him to be cast ashore when they deliberately scuttled the ship they were travelling on.

Tom is raised as an anonymous orphan child at a magic academy, his true identity known only to its headmaster, Professor Tulkinghorn, who keeps that secret until Tom is about to become a teenager. Tom, though sparkless, is an excellent student with a retentive memory, learns much of the lore taught at the academy, can call more of it to mind than most of the other students and, lacking power, is forced to develop his wits.

The problem comes when the ill informed and arrogant members of the Conclave, the magical governing body, decide to raise the sunken ship, thinking that it contains the ancient magicks of Lyonesse, which the Taylors had sailed to that mythic land to obtain. It does, but it also contains the ancient evil of Ambrosio, and that is unleashed on the land, corrupting most of the people of Eastbrooke in preparation for an assault on the rest of the world.

Bouncing back and forth as we do, we can see the struggle in the book as a mirror of Wilson’s struggle against the cabal. The blending of the two is complete when one of Wilson’s creations crosses over into our world while Tom is still just a toddler. Tom forgets this as he grows up, passing through his rebellious teems and nearly wasted youth but, as we have seen, it all comes together and has been revealing itself monthly since 2010.

This book ties up a lot of loose ends and makes a number of things clearer. I do hope the creators do this again with another of the Tommy books, taking us through another phase of Wilson’s planning. This was a lot of fun.

 

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Bookends: The early education of a urban mercenary February 18, 2015

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Bookends: The early education of a urban mercenary

By Dan DavidsonCold City

October 29, 2014

– 713 words –

 

Cold City- A Repairman Jack Novel

By F. Paul Wilson

TOR Books

481 pages

$9.99

 

Repairman Jack (no last name) is the subject of more than a dozen novels by Wilson. Some of which cross over into his occult themed “Adversary” series. Jack is a Manhattan based urban mercenary who fixes other peoples’ problems. He takes on cases of people who are downtrodden and being victimized. Jack lives off the grid, though he has some aliases that actually have paperwork behind them.

He appeared first as one character in the supernatural thriller The Tomb in 1988 and popped up in a number of Wilson’s other Adversary books. These deal, in Wilson’s own words, “with a history of the world that remains undiscovered, unexplored and unknown to most of humanity.”

The Jack we meet in those books is fully formed and super competent, though he has no special powers. He’s a bit McGyver-like in some of the books that show him as an adult, but he had to learn all that somewhere didn’t he?

Wilson has produced a trilogy of young adult books that feature Jack in high school, but Cold City is set during an intermediate stage of his life, after he has moved to the big city and is just starting to turn into the Repairman.

Jack is on the run and off the grid because he’s killed someone. His mother was killed when a young hoodlum dropped a concrete block off an overpass and it went through the window of her car. Jack was sitting beside her at the time and it was a formative moment for him. He tracked the prankster down and hung him foot first from same overpass, low enough for the semis to make contact. He was not found out, but he expects to be.

Jack has anger management problems, which he fights to control. He is working for a landscaper when one of his co-workers pushes him past his limit and he puts the man in the hospital. Needing another job, he becomes a driver for a cigarette smuggler, and that goes well until he is forced into a situation where he has to save another man’s life by driving for a group of human traffickers.

He encounters a pair of urban vigilantes who assist him in saving the girls, but this gains him the enmity of a mysterious group dedicated to creating chaos in the world.

There’s also something of a love story in this volume. Though he tries to avoid contact with anyone who knew him in his earlier life, he runs into Cristin, who had been the BFF of his high school sweetheart a few years earlier. She’s interested in being Jack’s “best friend with benefits” and the offer is impossible to resist for a young man who’s been alone too long.

So, the young Jack acquires a fake identity, a lot of money, driving skills, a working knowledge of several types of firearms, and some shady acquaintances who could be something like mentors to a young man just forming his adult identity. He even takes on a charity case when he comes to the aid of a local merchant who is being shaken down.

This book is set in 1990 and contains hints of things that will be happening in our real world; specifically, the World Trade Centre bombing that took place in 1993 and should occur within the time frame covered by the three books in this arc.

The book also sets up a lot of subplots that Wilson will no doubt wrap up in Dark City (already in print) and Fear City (forthcoming this year). The secret cabal knows that someone has interfered with their plans and is looking for him. A lower level villain named Reggie, who Jack had chosen to seriously damage rather than kill during that human trafficking affair, is out for revenge, and has already staged one attempt on Jack’s life.

What this book doesn’t have is even a whiff of the supernatural element that turns up in books set later along Jack’s timeline. This adventure is pure, down to earth thriller stuff, and a good page-turner.

 

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Bookends: Two “reads” for the road February 6, 2015

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Bookends: Two “reads” for the road

By Dan Davidson

August 20, 2014

– 838 words –

 

Last year I introduced this column to the work of the multi-styled John Creasey, an incredibly prolific British writer who made his living with his typewriter from 1935 to 1973. He wrote every sort of book from romance to western to science fiction, but he is best known for his mystery work.

He wrote at pulp magazine speed, with the result that he often had anything from a dozen to a score of books in the bookstores each year. As a result of this he used 28 different pseudonyms, both male and female, including Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, JJ Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

So prolific was he that at least a dozen books featuring half a dozen of his characters continued to appear for several years after his death. They were his writing, not the farmed out ghost writing that has become popular in recent years after a famous writer dies.

As I mentioned last fall, Creasey’s facility in various styles was such that his 14 different series have quite distinct flavours. The two I’m dealing with this week don’t seem at all alike.

 

The Baron ReturnsThe Baron Returns

By John Creasey (as Anthony Morton)

House of Stratus

202 pages

$16.05

unabridged reading

Narrated By Carl Prekopp

Audible Studios

Length: 6 hrs and 36 mins

 

The tales of John Mannering, known as the Baron, started out being something like a more straight-laced version of Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar (The Saint). Mannering is still a jewel thief in this second outing (of the 47 books in the series), but most of the capers in this book stem from his efforts to get a friend of his (the man who would become his father-in-law eventually) out of the clutches of a shyster solicitor/financier who has made a career of fleecing honest men and women.

This is a caper novel, and the plot mostly centers on several burglaries committed by the Baron in pursuit of justice for his girlfriend’s father. The break-ins are narrated in some detail, and Mannering is shown to have a bit of split personality. He embodies the Baron as he gathers his tools, slips on his outlaw mask and moves into action. In those moments he ceases to think of himself as Mannering, the wealthy man about town, and becomes his alter ego.

As the Baron he used a number of disguises, and actually has a complete third identity that he uses to divest himself of his stolen goods when dealing with fences. That sedate travelling salesman has a house in another part of the city and often lives there for days at a time.

The structure of the book is that there is a theft, followed by Mannering’s continuing attempts to persuade Inspector Bristow of Scotland Yard that he had nothing to do with it. Bristow is absolutely convinced that Mannering is the Baron, but simply cannot manage to prove it, so there is a constant sparring between the two, and a couple of sequences where the police lay careful traps that the Baron just manages to evade by the skin of his teeth.

 

The House of the BearsThe House of the Bears

By John Creasey

House of Stratus

234 pages

$13.20

 

Unabridged reading

Narrated by Stephan Greif

Audible Studios

Length: 7 hrs and 42 mins

 

Creasey created the character of Dr. Stanislaus Alexander Palfrey (Sap to his closest associates and his wife) during WWII and made him the head of a spy organization called Z5. By the time of this eighth book of the 34 in the series (written in 1947), Palfrey seems to be on leave from Z5. He actually is a doctor and we meet him travelling to the Yorkshire Moors at the request of another physician. At Sir Rufus Marne’s House of the Bears there has been an accident and Marnes’ daughter lies terribly injured after a fall from the minstrel’s gallery, which Palfrey discovers was no accident.

This book starts out feeling like an Agatha Christie style manor murder mystery in which the bodies keep piling up without any rhyme or reason. What’s missing from this formula is any sense of who the murderer might be. At least that’s the case until about half way through the book, when the plot takes a sharp turn into thriller territory, with some post-war Nazi trappings and the sort of world-wide danger from a power mad schemer that Ian Fleming would work into his James Bond novels when he began those with Casino Royale in 1953.

 

The audio book versions of these books make great long distance driving fare, running fro six to seven hours each. The productions are solid and the readers are interesting. The Audible productions are digital downloads that cost about $20 each, somewhat less if you subscribe to the monthly service.

 

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Bookends: What’s the meaning of the green paint in the bathtub? February 5, 2015

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Bookends: What’s the meaning of the green paint in the bathtub?Running Blind

By Dan Davidson

July 29, 2014

– 836 words –

 

Running Blind

By

Jove

544 pages

$10.99

 

Jack Reacher is a dedicated loner, an ex-military policeman whose peripatetic childhood left him with an itchy foot. At the end of Tripwire, the third of these novels, Reacher had almost settled down with Jodie Jacob, the daughter of his former commanding officer. Leon Garber had gone so far as to give Reacher a house in his will.

Lee Child had not yet begun to bounce Reacher’s saga around in time and space when this one came out. In later books we would learn what set Reacher on the road in the first place and even dig up some stories from his army days, as well as some from his childhood. In this fourth book, originally published in 2000, we pick up Reacher’s story right after he and Jodie get together, just a few months later, but it’s time enough that Reacher is already beginning to feel anchored by the house and its requirements.

Reacher has his own sense of justice, and when he sees a New York restaurant owner being shaken down for protection money by some mob types, he arranges to meet them on his own terms and concocts a scenario to scare them off. It involves putting them in the hospital for a while and making them think he is working for another gang boss.

This is an effective plan, but it happens at just the wrong time. Arriving home, he finds himself being picked up by the FBI as the lead suspect in a series of murders. They have been watching him for days, and his little ploy with the gang members gives them a way to hold him for his vigilantism.

It seems that Reacher exactly fits the profile that has been drawn up to account for the murders of several ex-service women, some of whom he knew during his years in the military. He knew them because he had worked on their sexual harassment cases. Now they are dying mysteriously.

Forensic examination is unable to reveal just what killed them. The killer has left no clues. Each woman has been found in a bathtub filled with the sort of military issue green paint used on military vehicles. There are no signs of a struggle at all.

It seems that there is a serial killer on the loose and the FBI’s expert profiler, Julia Lamarr, is convinced that it’s either Reacher, or someone just like him: a loner, ex-military, familiar with police procedure and possessed of his own sense of justice.

She will only admit she might be mistaken when another victim is found to have been killed during the time they had Reacher in custody. At that point the FBI switches tactics and coerces Reacher into working for them as a consultant on the case. Essentially they threaten to let the mob Reacher has just inconvenienced know who his girlfriend is.

Reacher has several problems to overcome in this story, which is more of a mystery than many of these books have been. He has to arrange to keep Jodie out of trouble. To do that he has to call in some favours and do an end run around the FBI while working for them.

In working the case as it has been presented to him so far, he uncovers a theft ring within the military and has to deal with that. When he does uncover the actual killer it turns out the situation is less of a serial case and more of a “purloined letter” situation, but that means that the FBI is seriously embarrassed by the outcome and tries to blame it all on him.

That’s not all that’s going on in this book though, and I hinted at the other problem back at the beginning. In spite of having been attracted to each other for years and having finally found each other, he and Jodie are headed on diverging life paths. She wants corporate success and a settled life as a lawyer. He wants to roam. The house and its needs are making him edgy and unsettled. They need to come to some sort of decision about their future together and this investigation strains their relationship to a breaking point.

There’s a little bit of extra pressure in the person of FBI agent Lisa Harper, 29, gorgeous and deliberately put on this case to watch Reacher and to tempt him, if possible. She’s not comfortable with that part of her assignment, but the two come to respect and like each other and things do get a little complicated.

Lots of the Reacher novels are more like adventure thrillers than mysteries. Except for the killer’s anonymous first person musings in italics sprinkled throughout the book, this is a straight mystery in most ways and we see Reacher using his mind rather than his muscle most of the time. I enjoy that sort of story.

 

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Bookends: Climate change thriller turns up the Arctic heat November 27, 2014

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Bookends: Climate change thriller turns up the Arctic heat

By Dan Davidson

June 11, 2014

– 832 words –

 

Arctic DriftArctic Drift

By Clive and Dirk Cussler

Berkley Books

593 pages

$12.50

 

It’s been a few years since I read one of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt thrillers, so when this one turned up with a plot set on Canada’s west and northern coasts, I decided to give it a try.

There have been some changes made. Dirk’s married. His wife, Loreen, is a US Senator. His former boss is now the vice-president of the USA and Dirk’s now the head of (National Underwater and Marine Agency). Dirk had children with another woman somewhere along the way and the young man is named after his father. This means that the younger man gets to be called Dirk throughout the book, while his father is called Pitt.

That’s the only really confusing part of the story, other than that the whole thing has to be taking place in some other dimension that just happens to be pretty much identical with our planet, because the degree to which tensions heat up between Canada and the USA in this story is definitely out of this world.

It doesn’t start there through. It starts with the Franklin Expedition back in 1848. On the two frozen in ships one crew has gone mad for some reason. The remaining sane crew members flee the Erebus and make for the Terror and some degree of safety. Eventually, as we know, they all die on the ice, but the mystery of the madness remains unsolved for the next 160 years.

Later on, off the coast of British Columbia, near Kitimat, the crew of a pleasure cruiser is overtaken at sea by a ghastly white mist and die in agony in mere minutes.

Later Dirk and sister Summer find the boat and report the tragedy, leading them to explore more around the area of Terra Green’s new carbon dioxide sequestration plant. Later they will find that all is not what it seems there.

In the Arctic Ocean a Canadian Coast Guard ship is rammed by what seems to be a large freighter towing a barge. It doesn’t sink, but the outrage appears to have been perpetrated by a ship flying American colours.

Off the coast of Vancouver Island a Canadian Senator stops to help a man who appears to have swamped his small boat and is in distress. But he’s not, and he pulls her into the water and drowns her.

Still later, an Arctic science exploration crew living on the ice pack is rammed by another boat that appears to be an American military vessel. All but a handful of the scientists die as their floes break up. The survivors are picked up by the NUMA ship, the Narwhal.

Finally, in Washington, a scientist comes up with a process to create artificial photosynthesis, a process that will, by itself, cut down and eliminate much of the CO2 that is being pumped into the air and contributing to whatever natural processes are already triggering climate change. Her lab blows up and she is badly injured. This gets the elder Pitt involved in the search for the rare mineral she needs to make the process work. There might have been some on one of Franklin’s ships.

Those are all the plot threads that you need to have to realize that this is a multilayered thriller with a lot of connections to some of our current problems. It’s a bit of wishful thinking to propose that anyone could find what amounts to a kill-switch for climate change, but it’s not hard to believe that some unscrupulous one per center wouldn’t find a way to make money out of the problem with a murderous scam that really just makes it worse.

There’s lots of action for the teams in this story. Young Dirk and Summer face danger off the west coast, while Pitt senior is nearly killed in an ambush in Northern Ontario. In a bit of meta-fiction, he is rescued by a gent named Clive Cussler who is touring in a nautically tricked out RV motorhome.

For the climax we move to the Arctic Ocean and some action at sea, under the sea, on Arctic islands and on the frozen hulk of the Erebus itself. If Mr. Cussler will just tell the Canadian government where he found it, we can stop looking for it. Remember, he did write the book Raise the Titanic some years before the actual wreck was found.

As I said at the beginning, a book that almost has the Canadian government declaring war on the USA has to be set on some other planet. There are a lot of coincidences in this story and I had to smile at some of the events, but it was a cracking good yearn and it moved right along.

Cussler hasn’t had any luck getting his books translated into movies, or I’d suggest this one.

 

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Bookends: Teenagers face the menace of werewolves and actual wolves November 25, 2014

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Bookends: Teenagers face the menace of werewolves and actual wolves

By Dan Davidson

April 9, 2014

– 909 words –

 

The ReckoningThe Reckoning

By Kelly Armstrong

Doubleday Canada

400 pages

$12.95

 

The Reckoning concludes the Darkest Powers Trilogy, in which three young people with supernatural abilities are on the run from a group that wants to either exploit them or terminate them.

Chloe, the narrator, is a necromancer, which in this version of magic is a person who has the power to communicate with spirits, animate corpses and cause the two to be reunited. She can also banish ghosts and send them to where ever they go next.

Simon is a minor spellcaster who is just beginning to master some of his abilities and really has to work at it, unlike Victoria, whose amped up abilities do not even require her to use spoken spells.

Derek is the final member of the group. As a human he is large for his age, but more importantly he is a werewolf approaching the first of his transformations, and concerned about what kind of beast he may become when he shapeshifts.

The four have been on the run from a special school run by the Edison Group, the organization responsible for the genetic experiments that have given three of the four of them enhanced abilities.

At the end of the second book they found sanctuary with a group consisting of former members of Edison who have come to feel that the group has gone too far in its breeding experiments. While the renegade group wants to help the teens at first, they eventually become scared of them and betray them to Edison.

Captive at Edison’s headquarters, it turns out to be Chloe’s abilities which are the most crucial in freeing them from captivity, though all the others play their parts. In this section of the book a whole new layer of supernatural creatures is dimly (but loudly) revealed, seemingly part of the Otherworld that Armstrong has used in her adult books about werewolves, witches and demonic plots.

A good portion of the trilogy has involved the relationship triangle of Chloe, Simon and Derek, and that is resolved in this final book. Actually the most dramatic character arc belongs, I think, to Tori, who grows from her origins as a spoiled, spiteful brat into a caring person who holds her own in the struggle against the forces of nastiness.

 

Devil’s PassDevil's Pass

By Sigmund Brouwer

Orca Book Publishers

237 pages

$9.95

 

Devil’s Pass is a third book in “Seven, the Series”. Jim Webb is another of David McLean’s grandsons, one of seven, who has been left a task to perform, and the money to perform it, by his grandfather. The elder McLean lived a full life all over the world, but left items on his bucket list incomplete at the end of it. He planned a quest for each of the lads, something that would not only complete his unfinished business, but also provide them with a growth experience. He has also provided them with people who will assist then on their journeys, but the exact nature of their help is kept secret.

For Webb, who has been living on the streets in Toronto since his stepfather, Elliot, poisoned his formerly happy home and threatened to hurt his mother if he didn’t run away, this means a trip to the Norman Wells, NWT, and a long hike on the Canol Road. Jim, named for songwriter Jimmy Webb, carries with him his Gibson J-45 guitar, with which he has been earning a meager living busking for some months now.

The structure of this novel is different than the first two I read, though all the adventures take place in about the same time frame, so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. They all have to contain the reading of the will and viewing of McLean’s video in the lawyer’s office, and they all have a series of letters that the grandfather has written to explain the task.

Webb is given minimal instructions, and this adventure is a bit more of a thriller than the first two I read. On his journey Webb has to deal with a man who is the image of his abusive stepdad, and with two German tourists who try to give him a hard time after he cleans up their messes along the trail. There is also a wolf.

In Norman Wells, he falls afoul of a nasty piece of work named Brent, who is abusing the woman he’s with. There are two confrontations with him in that town and then another out in the bush. All three work out badly for Brent, but the third one is a near thing for both of them.

Webb has been given directions to a specific location off the Canol trail, and there he finds the remains of a man who had been killed back in the 1940s when his grandfather was part of the US Military crew that worked on building the road.

Webb has a secondary task after his journey north, and that is to return to the family of the dead man and tell them what happened to him. They never knew. Then, with the help of some research McLean had done on Elliot, he is off to set things right with his mother. We are not told that story, but we have no trouble imagining how it will work out.

 

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Bookends: High-octane adventure complicates a road trip October 16, 2014

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Bookends: High-octane adventure complicates a road trip

By Dan DavidsonA Wanted Man

April 2, 2014

– 757 words –

 

A Wanted Man

By Lee Child

Dell

624 pages

$10.99

 

Jack Reacher was heading for Virginia, in search of the face behind the nice voice and agreeable intelligence that had assisted him during a recent adventure. He had a name and a location at the military base, and that was all, really. When he stuck out his thumb that night he wasn’t sure he’d get a ride. He was looking rough after the last few days. His broken nose hadn’t healed and he hadn’t had the opportunity to buy a change of clothes. He was surprised when the Chevy stopped to pick him up.

There are three people inside; two men in front, a woman in the back, all wearing the same sort of shirt, like they were part of a company group off to a convention or something. They’re going to Chicago, which is on his way, so that’s fine. There’s a funny feeling about the set up, but hitchhikers can’t be too choosy.

A little earlier three men had gone into a concrete bunker-like abandoned pump house near a small town. Only two had come out of the bunker and they were in a hurry. There was an eyewitness who called the county sheriff, Victor Goodman, who lived up to his name and found the body inside. It looked to him like a professional hit so he called the FBI and set up roadblocks. That’s when things started to happen.

About an hour later Special Agent Julia Sorenson arrives from Omaha, Nebraska. She is 47 years old and very professional.

Reacher, Goodman and Sorenson are the three narrative viewpoints we get to follow for about half of the book, as the plot thickens.

The woman in the car is Karen Defuesno, a waitress at a diner not far from the old pump house. It’s her car and she’s been kidnapped by the guys in the front. They swapped a hot looking red sedan for her more sedate looking Chevy and are using her to keep from being spotted as two guys on the run. Picking up Reacher was just bonus set decoration.

Eventually the driver gets tired and asks Reacher to take a turn. While he can see the rear view mirror, Defuesno manages, by means of an elaborate eye blink code, to tell him she’s been kidnapped. Reacher begins to wait for chances to do something about that.

Meanwhile Sorenson and Goodman are having to deal with a bunch of other federal agents (CIA?) who turn up and complicate things back near the original crime scene. Defuesno’s young daughter disappears, and the eye witness vanishes and things get very murky back in Goodman’s patch.

Eventually the three narratives run together and we begin to follow Reacher’s point of view exclusively. By that time Homeland Security is involved, Reacher is a wanted man (hence the title), Sorenson is in trouble with her boss in Omaha, and Defuesno turns out to be an undercover operative.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you, which is fair, because it’s not even a third of the plot twists that happen in this book before we get to the end. As sometimes happens in Child’s novels, this one takes place at a breakneck speed and takes us through only a few days before it’s all wrapped up.

There are car chases, escapes, gunfights, home invasions, and an assault on a fortified base before the story concludes.

But wait – as the commercials sometimes say – there’s more. Child is telling Reacher’s saga out of order, jumping around in time and location and sometimes using either first or third person narrative techniques. At the back of this book is a Reacher short story called “Deep Down”, taking us back to his days as an MP in the Army. There’s some kind of leak within the military related to a weapons procurement committee that is meeting to decide on a new purchase.

Reacher’s assignment is to join that committee and find out who the leak is. When one of the committee members is killed in a freak traffic accident the job either gets easier or harder, but there’s no way to know which until it’s almost too late.

I gather the Tom Cruise movie based on One Shot was a financial success, but this one would be hard to adapt. There’s a lot of interior pondering in this story and that usually doesn’t translate well to the big screen.

 

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