Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Echo Burning - by Lee Child

This is book #5 in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  Reacher is in Texas and needs to get out of town quickly. Luckily, as a hitchhiker, he almost immediately gets picked up by Carmen Greer.  As it turns out, this was not so random an event and ends up being most fortunate for Mrs. Greer.  Her husband, who she claims beats her, is getting out of jail in a few days, and she hopes to pick-up someone who will kill him and solve her problems.   While Reacher is no assassin for hire, he ends up immersing himself in the situation and ultimately solving the mystery of what is really going on.  As usual, no one truly understands what they are up against.

In my opinion, this is nowhere near the best of the Reacher tales.  The action is less and I found myself somewhat conflicted about many of the other characters.  In the end, however, there is still a lot of the classic Reacher formula in this story to like.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Die Trying - by Lee Child

This is the second book of the Jack Reacher series and was written back in 1998.  Fate places Reacher on a Chicago street at the same time that a woman is being abducted.  Kidnapped along with her, Reacher slowly learns who she is and works with her to deduce what is happening to them and why.  Then he must take the situation under control as only he can do.

I have read quite a few of the books in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  Although this was not my favorite, it has the pace and the feel of the other thrillers in the series.  I better appreciate how Reacher has grown as a character because I have now experienced this early volume of the series.  If you like the genre, I think you'll find this a worthwhile read.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Deliver Us From Evil - by David Baldacci

This is a sequel to The Whole Truth, featuring Shaw, the premier operative of an unnamed agency sent to beautiful Provence, where he plans to abduct Evan Waller, a very bad man made wealthy by selling young girls into the sex trade and now dealing with Arab terrorists over the sale of enriched uranium. There, he crosses paths with Reggie Campion, a Nazi hunter who is after Fadir Kuchin, a cold-blooded Ukrainian psychopath known as the "Butcher of Kiev" who is now known as Evan Waller.

While I like David Baldacci's books, this was not one of my favorites.  Shaw is not my favorite of his protagonists.  While I did not dislike this story, when I reached the end I was somewhat glad that it was over.  This thriller was not short on suspense, action, and violence, but for me personally, it did not totally grip and engage me.  That said, it was a decent story and your results may differ.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Black Box - by Michael Connelly

Detective Harry Bosch is back in his stint as part of the open and unsolved (cold case) unit (he has a limited term contract under the LAPDs Deferred Retirement Option Plan). He is working a murder case from back in 1992, during the L.A. riots, that he originally investigated but because of the situation in the city was forced to quickly move on and hand it off to a task force that was unable to solve it. As usual, as soon as Harry gains a little momentum, he quickly runs up against departmental politics.

If you are not familiar with Bosch, this is the 18th book of the series that features him. I find Harry to be one of the more realistic protagonists of the crime thriller genre. He is smart and tough, but certainly no genius or para-military freak of nature. He makes mistakes sometimes, he struggles with guilt, he can be gruff and he sometimes deals poorly with his emotions and relationships. He is dedicated to his police work, however, and does what it takes to close his cases and obtain justice. He follows his moral code, even if that means bending a few rules or making decisions that jeopardize himself and/or his career.

The title of the book was highlighted from two aspects. First, Bosch mentions knowledge passed down to him that the key to investigation is finding the "black box."  Just as the wreckage is combed after a plane crash to find the aircraft's black box, the key to criminal investigation is to find the one piece of evidence that will pull the case together.  Second, the time of the murder in this book preceded the widespread use of digital storage technologies common today.  Back then, handwritten notes were jotted on index cards and stored in little black boxes.  An old-school cop like Harry is comfortable and even a little nostalgic about things like this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Because I Said So! - by Ken Jennings

74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings gives the real scoop on much of the conventional wisdom passed down from parents.

Ken unveils the truth behind parental guidance such as "Don't talk to strangers!"; "Don’t crack your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis!"; "Don't cross your eyes—they'll get stuck like that!"; "Stay away from the poinsettia! The leaves are poisonous."; "No swimming for an hour after lunch. You'll cramp up." "When you start shaving, the hair will grow in thicker.";"Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day."; " "Most of your body heat escapes through your head!"; "If you pick up a baby bird, its mommy will reject it."; "Take off the Band-Aid to let your cut air out."; and many more of the things we probably all heard while growing up and now likely pass on to our own kids.

This is a fun, entertaining, informative, and downright delightful book.  I learned a lot from this quick read and had a few nostalgic chuckles with about my personal experiences with the subject matter and Jenning's sometimes witty explanations.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Racketeer - by John Grisham

Malcolm Bannister is an incarcerated former lawyer who tells his story of getting caught in the net of a zealous federal prosecution of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations. He is currently a resident of the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

When Judge Raymond Fawcett and his secretary are murdered at his lakeside Virginia cabin, the FBI investigation quickly stalls. Malcolm claims to have the information they need to close the case. Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows for a prisoner to be pardoned or have their sentence reduced if they can solve another crime and Malcolm wants a deal based on this. As you probably expect, however, the situation is not as straightforward as it may appear.

This story does not follow the traditional Grisham formula. It is, however, an intriguing tale about the execution of a complex and well planned scheme. There a plenty of surprising twists and turns. I was a little conflicted about Malcolm. I wanted to like him, and generally did, but also found him a little cocky and even annoying at times. If you demand uncompromised realism, you may have issues with the storyline. For me, personally, though, I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mad River - by John Sandford

Mad River is book #6 in John Sandford's Virgil Flowers series.  In southwest Minnesota, not far from Virgil's hometown, a trio of youngsters is terrorizing the community.  As part of an apparent armed robbery, they kill a young woman in her parents home.  Their attempts to run result in a crime spree with innocent victims piling up rather quickly.  Virgil is a somewhat unorthodox state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigator who joins in the hunt.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, Flowers is a rather unconventional super-cop.  Although he doesn't shy away from dangerous situations, he is not a macho mercenary type and does not like carrying a gun.  While very intelligent and often innovative, he's a talented but normal guy who employs effective police work and just gets the job done.  He's very likable and loves the outdoors (his fishing boat is probably his most prized possession).  He enjoys beer, women, burgers, and conversation, but also spends a good amount of time pondering God (though he is the son of a Lutheran minister).  He is a kind and thoughtful person, but has had problems with long-term relationships (he's already been divorced three times).  Like most of Sandford's characters, he is an interesting, somewhat quirky, and well-developed personality.

This book is not a mystery.  While Virgil is a good investigator, this is about a case where Virigil is, for the most part, forced to deal with events as they play out.  This is a criminal thriller, of sorts, and the plot has a number of suspenseful moments.  The storyline, however, is also about Virgil's rationalization and handling of the situations and emotions that surround the case as it plays out beyond his control and he must deal with the ethics of improper and unattainable justice.