The Freedom Broker
By K.J. Howe
Thea Paris, nicknamed “Liberata,” is an expert in the kidnap-and-ransom field, working for a private consulting firm. She routinely negotiates for the release of hostages, but sometimes, works with an elite team to bring the hostages home through covert missions and/or forceful means.
When Thea’s father, a prominent oil executive, is abducted from his home in Greece, she sets off to find him. Thea jets from Greece to Africa, unsure of who she can trust and having no idea what she’ll unravel.
Review/Recommendation: Super short summary, right? The truth is that, while the above is the main plot line, there are a lot of smaller stories that run through the course of the book, all tying into the above at the end.
This mystery/suspense novel was a breath of fresh air from others in the genre. With a lead character a profession other than a cop, federal agent, or a lawyer, it was still fast-paced and very engaging like others in the genre. There were a number of connected story lines that the reader had to puzzle through – how were those story lines connected to Thea’s missing father? Who was lying and about what? Who was trustworthy and who was not? Some answers were clearer than others, which is part of what made the novel so entertaining.
I also appreciated how Howe drew upon the childhood experiences of the main characters. Thea’s brother was kidnapped when the two were children and was missing for about a year. Thea was the intended target. These experiences shaped Thea and her brother’s paths in life, from their occupation to their relationships with others.
If you enjoy mysteries and suspense novels, I’d encourage you to pick up this one.
The Freedom Broker is K.J. Howe’s first novel. It was published in February 2017.
The Max Revere Novels
By Allison Brennan
Book .5: Maximum Exposure
Book 1: Notorious
Book 2 :Compulsion
Book 3: Poisonous
Maxine Revere, Max, is an investigative reporter specializing in cold cases. After a couple of hit books to accompany her journalism career, her college friend talks her into hosting a television show focused on criminal justice, Maximum Exposure.
This series follows Max and her sidekick – assistant/bodyguard David Kane – as they investigate cold cases through their employment at NET. Max is outspoken, righteous, and a firm believer in the truth. In fact, she pursues the truth relentlessly, viewing the idea of ‘knowing the truth’ in black and white terms. The truth is always better than not just a lie but also the unknown, a view that frequently puts her at odds with friends, adversaries and sometimes, the people she’s trying to help.
Review/Recommendation: This series (so far) is a light, quick read. The first four parts of the series have been published recently, beginning in 2014, with the most recent being released in April of this year. Max’s role as a reporter makes the series stand out from others in the genre, who favor law enforcement personnel as leading characters.
I enjoyed the characters in the series. Max was referred to numerous times as a “bitch,” but the truth is that she’s blunt, honest, and determined. She’s a strong protagonist and while she may not see eye-to-eye with others, she stands firmly behind her beliefs, for better or worse. The supporting characters add some lightness and depth to the series – Max bickers constantly with her friend-coworker; her love interest flits in and out of the books and reveals a bit of a playful side to Max.
The plot lines are entertaining but not generally too deep, which is pretty much what I expect for books in this genre. Overall, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an easy, light book (beach-read anyone?).
This was the first book I’ve read by Hurwitz, and I’m super bummed that the next book in the series isn’t out yet. Since I can’t wait, I’ve already picked up one of his older books to see if its as good as this one!
By Gregg Hurwitz
Trained from a young age as a mercenary for a off-the-books U.S. government program known as the Orphan program, Evan Smoak (Orphan X) is known as The Nowhere Man. Evan left the program under devastating circumstances. After a month of wallowing, he reinvents himself, using his training for good – to help those who are desperate for help. The system he creates is simple. He helps someone in need, and as payment, that person gives his phone number to someone else who is in need and worthy of help. He works with one person at a time, on this referral basis.
However, a mission to help a woman supposedly being hunted for a gambling debt (with her father held hostage) just doesn’t seem quite right. Is the woman the person who she claims she is? Evan is suspicious of her, but eventually realizes that he himself is the target himself. Not sure who he can trust, Evan must tread carefully – to protect not just the innocent but himself.
Review/Recommendation: This is the first book I read by Hurwitz and I couldn’t put it down. It was a suspense with a plot line very different from other books in the same genre – a pleasant surprise. I loved that Evan Smoak was a killer with a conscience, someone who was trained to be ruthless, but who, deep down, empathizes with those in need.
I also enjoyed seeing Evan evolve and grow, as a direct result of a relationship with a neighbor and her son. As his neighbor sucked him into her life, he gradually came out of his shell, experiencing emotions that he had long ago buried deep.
The completely different plot line, coupled with unexpected twists and turns, had me completely into this book. I bing-read over the course of a weekend and can’t wait to read the next in the series. If you are into mysteries and suspense, don’t miss out on this one!
Winter In Books:
Yes, this title is appropriate – spring just arrived this week!
Surprisingly, I’ve spent a lot of time reading (on and off) over the past few months. Amid frantic knitting to finish a baby blanket for my BFF, I’ve managed to get multiple books going at a time – one audio for the car, one on my iPad, and one hardcover (for when I can’t bring my iPad along). I read and reviewed a light romance novel for you and a few mystery-suspense novels that I don’t plan on reviewing on here. If you’re interested, you can check out the list of books I’ve read on Goodreads or check out my profile for what I’m currently reading.
In addition, Paperback Book Swap changed their policy, from providing a free service enabling members to swap books at will (you pay the shipping), to charging 50¢ per transaction. I haven’t used the site much in the past few years, since I have been doing most of my reading on an e-reader, so I decided it wasn’t worth keeping my account active. I quickly cashed in my remaining 5 credits for old copies of a few J.D. Robb mysteries before the policy change kicked in and retired my account.
J.D. Robb’s In Death Series
Cashing in at PBS, along with the audio books that have been sitting in my car this summer, inspired the rest of this – a review of J.D. Robb’s In Death series. There are almost 40 books in the series (published 1995-present), of which I’ve read or listened to about half of them.
The Story: In Short The series begins in the year 2058. The 50+ years into the future setting is well established and apparently through the made-up vocabulary and technology used consistently throughout the series. Characters drink “tubes” of Pepsi and encounter droids as servants and security personnel. There are a number of references to the existence of human settlements “off planet,” including both prisons and vacation destinations. Both legal (i.e. Sober Up, blockers) and illegal (i.e. Zoner) drugs are foreign to the present-day reader.
This is the world of Eve Dallas, a leading homicide detective in New York City. Throughout the series, the reader watches as Dallas solves case after case and rises in the ranks of the New York City Police Department. The further into the series one reads, the more that the reader learns about what makes Eve, well, Eve – from an abusive father to living in the foster care system to her eventual relationship with a sketchy Irishman turned legitimate businessman.
Review: Over the past several years, I have enjoyed several of these books. I find them easy to pick up and although the stories are loosely linked, I’ve found it them easy to read out of order. I don’t find any of the story-lines particularly complicated, but they’re entertaining, which is the reason I regularly return to the series (and most of books in the mystery and suspense genre) anyway.
One of the strongest features to the series are the characters. Each of the major characters, and there’s several that appear in each book, all have their own distinct personality. Eve is the hard ass; sidekick Delia Peabody is a little wonky, electronics division Ian McNab reminds me of a surfer, and husband Roarke is highly intelligence and slick. As I read (or listen to) one of the books, I’ve grown to imagine the characters based on Robb’s description of the characters but also their very unique voice, which shines through best in the audio version of the books.
This series is actually one of my favorites to listen to on audio book. The content is light and fast-paced so that I don’t get distracted. However, I think the best part is that the narrator, Susan Ericksen, is excellent. She has narrated every book that I’ve listened to (as far as I can tell, she may have actually narrated the whole series to date). For me, this continuity makes a huge difference in which series I will continue to listen to on audio book and which ones I’ll switch back to the old-school books.
If you’re a fan of mysteries/suspense novels and haven’t given J.D. Robb a try, I’d recommend it. The futuristic setting is a fun twist. Bonus points if you give the audio books a shot.
Carved in Bone
By Jefferson Bass
Dr. Bill Brockton runs the Body Farm, a nickname for the Anthropology Research Facility, a “postmortem-decay research lab” at the University of Tennessee. Brockton is a forensic anthropologist who studies rates of decomposition and effects of nature, among other things, upon victim’s bodies at the Body Farm. He regularly assists local law enforcement on cases and testifies in court.
In Carved in Bone, Dr. Brockton is asked to assist in a case in Cooke County, Tennessee. The body of a young woman is discovered, oddly well preserved, deep in a cave. But the case is more than what Dr. Brockton bargained for. Before he knows it, he’s knee-deep in Cook Country’s illicit activities, surrounded by people he doesn’t trust, and a target for who knows who.
Review/Recommendation: The first book in the Body Farm Series, published in 2006, Carved in Bone starts off pretty slow. I felt like I was reading an episode of FOX’s Bones, but much slower-paced and without the wit and fun banter of the tv show’s characters. The story starts to pick up about a third of the way through the book, when the characters are all introduced, although there are still parts that seemed to drag a little bit.
That being said, I did like the story, once it got going. Actually, the story line was the best part, for me. I read a lot of mystery and suspense novels, and I definitely didn’t feel like this was a story that I had already read elsewhere.
However, I do feel there was significant room for improvement. I could have used a bit more wit and humor in the dialog. In addition, the investment in the characters was also lacking. There was a good mix of characters – some more likable than others and a few that evoked feelings of pity – but I didn’t have strong (positive or negative) feelings towards any of them.
I am not sold on whether or not I’ll be hooked on the series like I am books by some of my favorite mystery authors, but I thought the book was entertaining enough to reserve the second book in the series from the library. I’m hoping that the slow start and lack of attachment to the characters was due to setting the scene for the series and won’t be repeated with each book.
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.