The Inside Ring
By Mike Lawson
Joe DeMarco is a law school graduate working as a “fixer” for the Speaker of the House. At the Speaker’s request, DeMarco begins investigating an assassination attempt against the President. Did the man who admitted to the assassination attempt in a suicide note really do it? Or was the Secret Service hiding the truth? DeMarco seeks the answers while wadding through Washington politics and hidden agendas, risking his life to find the truth in a Georgia county run like a kingdom.
Review: The Inside Ring is the first book in the Joe DeMarco series and the first book I’ve read by Mike Lawson. While the plot was pretty good once the book got going, I would not read another book by Lawson. As a main character, I found DeMarco pretty unremarkable. He was neither likeable nor unlikeable. He didn’t seem all that intelligent, his “ah ha” moments coming largely when someone else was was hinting at what they had already deduced. It bothered me that DeMarco was supposed to be a “fixer” but he relied heavily on others to help him in his investigation.
In this book, DeMarco received the most assistance from a retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent named Emma. Lawson tells the reader, in a few pages, that DeMarco met Emma when he saved her life, thus beginning their relationship. In The Inside Ring, DeMarco partners with Emma (and an array of people that help her) to investigate the assassination attempt. This whole relationship baffled me. I can understand Emma repaying a favor, but Lawson indicates that Emma helps DeMarco on a fairly regular basis. Apart from absolute boredom and a bottomless fortune (which I did not get the impression that she had), I could not understand why Emma would bother spending the time and energy to help DeMarco.
Ultimately, the weak main characters and relationships are what proved to be the downfall of this book. It’s unfortunate because the plot was pretty interesting, and I enjoy finding new mystery authors that I enjoy.
First, I’ll apologize for my sparsity of posts. I’ve been thinking about this blog and meaning to sit down to finish up some posts I’ve started but third trimester tiredness (less than 5 weeks to go!) as well as pregnancy-induced carpel tunnel (limiting my cooking and computer time) has gotten in the way. Rest assured, while I might be slowing down, I will be back. Just a little less frequently, and probably with more book reviews for a while.
This past week, I lost myself in a couple of older mysteries. I’ve always enjoyed Iris Johansen’s romantic suspense novels, but these two had a different feel to them.
Silent Thunder & Shadow Zone
By Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen
Silent Thunder (2008): Submersible designer Hannah Bryson and her brother Conner are evaluating the safety of a Soviet submarine (the Silent Thunder) before a museum opens the submarine up to the public. Minutes after the two discover a set of plates with strange engravings on them, Connor is killed. Hannah dodges attacks against herself while chasing after Connor’s murderers, with the help of both the CIA and Soviet submarine captain (and occasional CIA asset) Nicholas Kirov.
Shadow Zone (2010) : Hannah and Kirov return in this sequel. Hannah is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean mapping the lost underwater city of Marinth. Her research has uncovered so much about the people’s lives, leaving only the city’s downfall in question. Just as her mission comes to an end, she discovers an artifact that may be the key to uncovering the truth about the city’s demise. When the artifact is stolen by a weapons dealer, Hannah teams with Kirov to recover the artifact on their own, despite offers of assistance from the U.S. government. What they didn’t expect, however, was to get in the way of a grande ecoterrorism scheme.
Review: These have been the first books that have hooked my attention in quite a while. I actually finished one and within an hour, drove to the library to get the other. They are by no means great literature, but I enjoyed the mix of Johansen’s usual romantic suspense with the scientific adventure that reminded me of a Clive Cussler book. The big difference is that Johasen’s books are a much quicker read than most of Cussler’s and glaze over the scientific details that Cussler goes into. I’m more than ok with this.
If you’re looking for a light read – something to curl up in front of the fireplace with, or perhaps a beach book – this pair will easily hold your interest.
By Stieg Larsson
Book 1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
I started the first book in the series for book club, with a bit of apprehension. I had heard that most people either loved the book or hated it. I had also heard that it takes most people anywhere from 50-125 pages to get into the book. I will admit that I started off reading fairly slowly, but I honestly think that was more because I wasn’t in the mood to read, rather than a comment about the book.
But about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo… The book starts out with journalist Mikael Blomkvist being convicted for libel, forcing him to take a leave of absence as publisher of his magazine, Millennium. A wealthy industrialist and businessman, Henrik Vanger, offers him a chance to get away – Vanger asks Blomkvist to live near his family for a year, allegedly to write his family biography, but really, to secretly look into the death and/or disappearance of his great-niece. Blomkvist’s motivation is a promise of exacting revenge against the man who sued him for libel and attempted to take down the magazine. Blomkvist, along with researcher Lisabeth Salander, make progress in solving the decades old mystery, thereby threatening the family and its legacy. As they delve deeper into the girl’s disappearance, the pair face hostility from the family and threats from unknown parties. Will they solve the mystery before the year is up? Will Blomkvist be able to exact his own revenge?
Overall, I enjoyed the first book, certainly enough to continue reading the series, which I liked even better than the first. I’m glad I continued reading, as I got more interested in the story (and out of my reading funk), to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate Larsson’s series.
Book 2: The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl Who Played with Fire caught my interest much quicker than the first, leading me to believe that I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I started reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
In Book 2, Lisabeth Salander gets caught in the middle of a murder investigation, where she is the primary suspect. Police and social service reports, leaked to the media, paint Salander as a violent, psychopathic killer on the run. Mikael Blomkvist and the employees at Millennium return, launching their own investigation, based on suspicion that the murders were motivated by a soon-to-be-released provocative book naming criminals and clients involved in a massive sex trafficking operation, to prove her innocence.
The Girl Who Played With Fire lacks the gruesomeness of the first book of the series, though it stays true to the characters.
Book 3: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Book 3 picked up right were the previous one left off – part of the mystery surrounding the murder investigation has been solved, but not completely. Some suspects are in custody while others took flight. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest follows the investigations into these suspects, as well as the efforts to discover the history behind the story.
Salander’s friends – Blomkvist, her former guardian, and her former boss – band together with an unlikely group to defend and support her against the allegations. Salander not only tries to help herself but also attempts to seek revenge against those that have harmed her.
Concluding Impressions of the Trilogy:
I can understand some of the controversy around this series. Larsson does have a particular way of writing and developing a plot that stands out compared to most American mysteries. The plot lines are much more complicated than many American mysteries (at least the ones I read). This was actually a pleasant surprise for me – I definitely could not anticipate the ties between the characters and the twists in the story that Larsson threw at us.
The author also begins each book with descriptions of various, more serious topics, which tend to spread throughout the book. In the first, it was Swedish politics and economics. In the second, it was about a mathematical equation. In the third, it was a bit of politics and a lot of history of Swedish government institutions. I think this is why some people have a hard time getting into the first book and the series.
That aside, I like the characters in the book. Blomkvist is a bit naive but really wants to do the right thing. Salander and her friends that appear periodically throughout the series (Mimmi and the Evil Fingers) have spunk and attitude. And I really enjoyed the complicated plots, where there always seemed to be a twist and turn.
Recommendation: Yes, if you enjoy mysteries
WARNING: This review contains spoilers!!
I read In the Woods because it was chosen as a book club book. I had high hopes for it, as it was an Edgar Award finalist. Indeed, the book had a lot of potential, but I very disappointed in it.
The Story: In The Woods consists of two parallel mysteries, both centered around Detective Rob Ryan. The first was when he was a young boy – Ryan was found with bloody shoes, clutching a tree. He had no recollection of what happened to the two friends he was with; they simply disappeared.
Now fast-forward 20 years. Ryan is assigned as the detective of a present-day murder, back in his home town. Working the case brings back memories for the detective, enough memories to leave him unsettled, but he never remembers what happened the day his friends disappeared.
Praise: The first thing I was struck with when reading In The Woods was that it is really beautifully written. The descriptions are outstanding. It’s rare that I find a mystery that uses such imagery.
As the book progressed, I also grew very attached to the two plot-lines, very curious to find out what happened to Ryan as a child and whether (and how) the two mysteries would come together.
However… this never happened. The mystery of Ryan’s childhood was never solved. While I realize that not every book can / should wrap up everything, I felt like I put up with Ryan’s annoying personality (he’s whiny and naïve) to find out what happened. Instead, one of the two mysteries is left unsolved, and Ryan ends up going backwards in life – alone, no friends, and actually went backward in his career. Clearly Ryan was having a hard time, given the circumstances, but he was just not likable. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t feel sympathetic for him.
To Sum Up: What could have been a great book ended up being just so-so. It had a lot of potential but I was just disappointed and irritated at the end of it.
But what did you think?
The Dirty Secrets Club
By Meg Gardiner
This was my first book read by Meg Gardiner, and I think its safe to say that I’ll getting the rest of her books from the library. The Dirty Secrets Club was full of twists, turns and unexpected surprises – I never would have guessed the ending, which makes a mystery/suspense book a winner for me.
So what is the Dirty Secrets Club? I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll just say that it’s a group of fairly high-powered public figures with secrets to hide, both from their past and present. When a member of the Dirty Secrets Club is killed, the Boston police launch an investigation into the club, revealing more deaths, scandals, and the secret lives of some of Boston’s most well-known citizens.
If you enjoy mysteries and suspense novels, read The Dirty Secrets Club. Can you figure out who is in the club and who is threatening its members?
January 2010 Update: This review was spotlighted on Mysteries and My Musings’ January Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival. Check it out for more mystery reviews.
Book Review: The Keepsake
Tess Gerritsen is another of the mystery authors that I really enjoy, with most of her books centered around the same cast of characters – Boston cops. While I don’t normally post reviews of all my mysteries (I just read them way too fast!) but this one was particularly enjoyable so I wanted to leave a little something.
The Keepsake is the story of the “anthropology killer,” a murderer who is killing women and preserving them according to ancient methods (think of the mummies…). The murder investigation was intertwined with historical facts and antidotes. What I most enjoyed about the story was its unpredictability – even up until the last few pages there were twists that made me second-guess what we already knew and what we expected to happen.
If you enjoy James Patterson, Alex Kava, or other mystery & suspense authors (authors of “murder mysteries,” as I like to call them), then I would definitely recommend The Keepsake, or any other book by Gerritsen.
January 2010 Update: This review was spotlighted on Mysteries and My Musings’ January Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival. Check it out for more mystery reviews.
A couple more of my favorite mystery authors. All are quite addicting – I start reading one of theirs and get hooked, always disappointed when I realize that I have to wait for a new book to come out. It’s a good thing my family keeps me well-stocked with an assortment of mystery books (I get a box or so a month, usually more than I can keep up with!).
I hope you enjoy getting to know these authors and their characters as much as I have. Please let me know what you think, or if you have any new recommendations for me and the family (fellow mystery addicts) to try!
Alex Kava: Most of Kava’s books are trilogies, several centered around FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell. Unlike Brennan and Stewart’s trilogies below, Kava’s should be read in order, as the later books usually refer back to previous storylines.
Allison Brennan – Brennan writes trilogies with several reoccurring characters, most members of the FBI.
Mariah Stewart – Another author that writes in trilogies. Stewart’s books follow a group of FBI agents, with each book focusing on one or to characters.
In addition to the FBI group, the Mercy books add in a group called the Mercy Street Foundation, a group of investigators funded and run by a wealthy man lost wife and son.
Karen Rose: Unlike the others in this post, Rose writes about local cops rather than a federal law enforcement service. Like most mystery books, all of Rose’s books have a secondary, romantic storyline – but I will admit to becoming much more attached to this storyline in her books than others.
Iris Johansen: The Eve Duncan series is my favorite of Johansen’s books. Eve Duncan is an artist who often helps law enforcement identify the remains of the deceased through forensic sculpting. This series follows Duncan and her family – police detective husband and daughter Jane – often across the world.
So I’m not going to lie – I love trashy mystery novels, that take only a day or two to read. By no means are they great literature, but I’m addicted. They’re mindless and help me unwind at night. I could lose myself in this sort of book for hours. I get very attached to the characters, so enjoy authors that continue to develop the same character set over several books. Some of my favorite authors are:
James Patterson: A long time favorite, although I confess, I’ve been disappointed in much of his books recently. Ever since The Jester, he’s been co-authoring an increasing number of books which frankly, aren’t as good as his older ones. Also, I wasn’t thrilled when the Alex Cross series (a DC cop) suddenly took on a counterterrorism angle. I haven’t read most of his recent books, so I’m not up to date, but I would recommend the couple non-mysteries he’s written (I very much enjoyed Sundays at Tiffanies)
Kay Hooper: Murder mysteries with a psychic twist. Hooper, writing in trilogies, follows the Special Crimes Unit, a unit of psychic FBI agents. The cast of characters is all the same, but each book focuses on the character development of one or two characters. I’m never disappointed by a Kay Hooper book!
Suzanne Brockmann: Most of Brockmann’s books revolve around a CIA-type agency, Troubleshooters Inc., involved in counterterrorism and other operations around the world. Like Kava, Brockmann follows a cast of characters, with each book highlighting one or two characters, usually in a romantic storyline (which is why you’ll sometimes find Brockmann’s books in the romance section at bookstores). These are a fun glimpse into the world of spies.
Brenda Novak: Novak writes trilogies about The Last Stand, a victim’s advocacy group that picks up cases to help find missing persons and protect anyone subject to abuse.
(Also, just for the holiday season, Novak is offering signed copies of her books on her website. Link below.)