Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Red, White, and Blue Thriller

Vince Flynn writes about one of my favorite characters - Mitch Rapp who is a CIA operative. I just finished his latest book – Protect and Defend. Mitch is always effective in what he does and in this book it is no different. However, the things Mitch does are not always thought to be the right thing. This is why a lot of the things he does are done in secret. As a reader of these “fictional” accounts, we know what he is doing and, in a lot of cases, why. This makes it easier to accept what he does. He seems to be different from how in general we view the actual CIA. Or maybe it is because the CIA is so secret and we do not know what they are doing (or more importantly why they are doing it and how they justify it) that we have a different view? I think it is easier to accept a fictional account with it’s justifications a lot easier than a real live account where the justifications are a little fuzzy.

Case in point … the book opens with Mitch and a partner tracking down a character from a previous book – Stu Garrett. Only a few people (as well as the reader) know the kind of person Stu Garrett is and what he has done. His purpose was to help a political party elected to the White House but his method was one that was wrong. The wife of the vice presidential candidate (and others) were blown up by terrorists because of him. Is this a justified way to help get the party elected to office? He would use any way he felt necessary to accomplish his purpose. He was a heartless “person”.

Mitch tracks him down, kills him, and makes it look like an accident. If this was not a fictional account and had we not known what we knew, would this be justifiable? I think it is the things you do not know that make some things hard to accept.

There was a secret facility being built to develop nuclear bombs in Iran – sound familiar? Only a few knew about the facility and only a few knew about plans to bomb it. When it was bombed, the powers in Iran pointed the finger at Israel and the United States for doing it. They also indicated it the facility was to develop power - not bombs. In spite of proof otherwise, they proceeded to incite their country and others into a confrontation with the US and Israel.

Irene Kennedy who was Mitch’s boss is sent to quietly defuse the situation. She meets with somebody in the Iran government in Iraq. What they do not realize is that others in the Iranian government know about this and kidnap Irene. Their plans are to discredit the US and to torture Irene and to get top secret information from her. This upsets Mitch and he plans to do anything to get her back. He captures some of the ones who were in the raid that kidnapped Irene. He uses torture to get information about the kidnapping of Irene. While the torture done by the Iranians is considered evil, the torture done by Mitch is somewhat justifiable to those of us who know what is going on.

Anyway, Mitch successfully locates and rescues Irene but this does not end the story. The terrorist responsible for her kidnapping escaped but is hunted down. He is in a prison in Lebanon. Using some influences and bribes, Mitch goes to the prison, confronts the terrorist, and kills him in the interrogation room. Sound similar to the beginning of the book?

Of interest was the way the Iranian government was portrayed in this book. You have the good people and you have the bad people. And then you have those in the government who keep themselves out of the middle of it and wait until they see the outcome before they take a stand. Interesting!!!

Monday, January 21, 2008

"A Cold Day In Paradise"

Our mystery book reading club selected “A Cold Day In Paradise” by Steve Hamilton for the February mystery discussion. This is the first time I have read anything by Steve Hamilton. It is the first in a series of seven about a private investigator called Alex McKnight.

There were two things about this book I felt were interesting – the sleuth’s name and the title of the book. Alex McKnight is an ex-cop and an ex-minor leaguer. He has moved back home to Paradise, Michigan where he manages some cabin rentals and works as a pi for a lawyer named Uttley. He becomes involved in a mystery when there is a murder discovered by Edwin who considers Alex as a friend. McKnight comes to Edwin’s rescue in this murder / mystery – just like a knight would come to the rescue of a damsel in distress. This was the first thing I found of interest in this book.

As I mentioned before, the title of the book was also interesting. The first thing to relate about the title is the location of this mystery and the weather. “A Cold Day In Paradise” takes place in Paradise (Michigan) and the “days” (and nights) are cold at this time of the year. But I think the significance of the title goes deeper than this. There is a similar phrase – a cold day in hell – which is used when something is unlikely to happen. This also applies here.

After the first murder occurs, Chief Maven of the Soo police department instructs Alex to leave it alone and let the police department investigate it. Well…, it is unlikely that Alex will stay out of it (and the mysterious events that follow). He continues to investigate and is drawn deeper when things point to a murderer (Rose) at the end of his career as a police officer. How Rose is committing these murders and contacting Alex is in itself a mystery since Rose is supposed to be in a maximum security prison. But the present day murderer identifies himself as Rose and knows things only “known” by Alex and himself.

Finally there is a confrontation between the murderer and Alex in which the murderer is killed. Instead of being Rose, the murderer turns out to be a man named Raymond Julius – somebody Alex is unfamiliar with. Mystery solved?? No Chance!!!

Alex continues to investigate and begins to unravel the mystery. Raymond Julius was a “partner” with the private investigator who was replaced by Alex. He had committed the murders. Alex visits Rose in jail to determine how Raymond Julius got the information about the murder of his police partner years before. On his visit to Rose he discovered two things that did not fit. First, Raymond Julius could NOT have communicated with Rose in prison. Also Rose believed he had killed two police - Alex as well as his partner.

As he is making the long drive back from the prison, he realizes somebody else had access to information about Rose. He returned to find his boss (Uttley the lawyer) packing “to go on vacation”. Since there was no way he could prove it, Alex convinced Uttley to explain the murders. It turns out it was a conspiracy between Uttley, Edwin’s mother, and Edwin (who was supposedly murdered as well by Raymond Julius). They recruited Raymond Julius to kill the two bookies who Edwin had deep gambling debts with. They manipulated Alex by bringing him in on the case. They also arranged the disappearance of Edwin. They also manipulated Raymond Julius into confronting Alex in order to eliminate a loose end.

Alex left Uttley with two warnings. First, Uttley is also a loose end and Edwin’s mother may decide to eliminate him at some point. Second, someday the three conspirators may find Alex at their front doors to get a payback for what they did and how they used him.

When will Alex let go of it? Only time will tell. However Alex has carried guilt since the day his partner was shot and killed. He feels if he would have pulled his gun sooner, his partner might be alive. Now he is able to let that go. When? On a cold day in Paradise.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Profile of A. Cross

James Patterson writes and is a co-author of several series. Alex Cross is a profiler in one of his series. So far there are 13 books in the series. I just read the 12th book in the series and it is simply called Cross. The book backs up several years in the past to events that affect Alex in the current. Alex has memories of his wife who was murdered back then. The person suspected of killing his wife disappeared but is back now.

This book has short chapters. I suspect the average length per chapter is 3-4 pages. I do not think the length of the chapters takes anything away from the book. Instead I feel the length of these is one of the reasons I was able to finish the book so soon. You get to the end of a chapter and feel you can read another.

There were other things that held my attention. The series has some constant characters other than Alex Cross. One of these characters is Sampson – a childhood friend and a member of the DC police. Sampson is one of those types of people who do best working by himself (unless he is working with Alex) and does not care what others think about him. When Alex leaves the FBI and sets up a private practice, Sampson asks for help and a personal favor with a rape case. They discover later that the case and several others are related and point to the Butcher. This is when the case becomes more than personal to Alex who has not been able to get over his wife’s death those many years ago.

Another perennial character is Nana – Alex’s Grandmother. She raised Alex and she takes care of the family. Nobody will “cross” Nana – not Alex, his kids, or even Sampson. She is one of the main reasons Alex decides to leave the FBI in this book. He knows he needs her especially when she threatens to leave him. As we know and are reminded through this series, Nana has been a big influence in Alex’s life as well as an important influence on his kids.

A good part of the book deals with the Butcher. We find he had his “influences” as well that lead him to become what he was. He is a professional hit man for the mob and anybody who would want his services. He is a cruel rapist who manipulates the ones he rapes to convince them not to say anything to the police. And when the ladies he has raped talks to somebody else about the rape, he goes back to them and tells them they are responsible for him killing them. As we know early in the book (and Alex finds out later), the butcher killed a lady he raped who talked to Alex’s wife who was a social worker trying to help her. It was shortly after the butcher killed that lady when Alex’s wife was killed. Although Alex did not know this connection, he suspected the butcher was responsible for his wife’s death.

The Butcher (Michael Sullivan) turned partially into what he became because of his father who was a butcher in a meat shop. His father was mean to his family and we learn he also sexually molested Michael. Later Michael got a gun and threatened his father. He told him he was going to let him live for now but he would get him when he least expected it. Later he kills his father, cuts him up in little pieces, and feeds him to the fish in the bay.

In this book, the butcher is being sought by the mob, the police, the FBI, as well as Alex Cross. He escapes several attempts on his life by the mob and goes after them. He gets so pumped up he seeks out and commits more rapes. Finally Alex and Sampson get a good lead on him. Mike gets caught in between Alex and Sampson, and a group from the mob. Alex has doubts that Mike killed his wife when the butcher tells him he didn’t do it. It looks like he will get away and will kill Alex in this mess but Sampson kills him before he does.

Sometime after the incidence, Sampson tells Alex he killed the person responsible for Maria Cross. There was another person working with the butcher. It was not until this time that he was able to say anything about it. Knowing the person responsible is dead is the start to Alex being able to recover.

But this is not the end. In the last chapter, Alex gets a phone call and the caller tells him there has been a murder. Alex asks why he was called ant the response was “Because you’re Dr Cross and I’m the murderer.” Sound like the lead in to the next book? We’ll see.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Blanco County Mystery

Blanco County, Texas. This is the fifth book in the series written by Ben Rehder. The name of this book is Gun Shy and the sleuth is John Marlin – a game warden in Blanco, TX. It has been a while since I read the other four books in the series and I can not say for sure if this is the best one in the series but it is definitely one of the best.

Ben Rehder takes a Texas issue – gun control and concealed weapons – and develops the story around it. In addition, he uses several interesting subplots within the story.

Blanco County is going to be the site for a NWA (an organization like the NRA) rally. Looming in the background (and waiting for a confrontation) is an organization opposing the NWA. This group is called SNATCH – the Society of Nonviolent Americans to Control Handguns). A murder poses a threat to the NWA. This murder is committed by the spokesperson for the NWA (Mitch Campbell) while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. An unsuccessful attempt by the spokesperson (Mitch Campbell) and an officer in the NWA (Dale Stubbs) is made to hide the murder. Attempts were made to disguise it as a hunting/poaching accident and John Marlin is brought in to help with the investigation.

The author introduces a love interest for our game warden. She is a deputy and the author uses her in several ways to make the story more interesting. It is funny to see how she teases John Marlin with the television when there is jewelry commercial on it. It is also interesting how the author puts her and our game warden on opposite sides of the gun issue. John Marlin is a longtime supporter of the NWA and his love interest (Nicole) opposes some of the things they support. Later in the story we (and John) learn the reason for her opposition is a result of an earlier experience involving a gun being held to her neck.

Another character from previous books is used in the book to make it more interesting. This character is a redneck called Red O’Brien who has done some poaching in earlier books. He is a somewhat comical character who wants to join the NWA. His application for membership is rejected because of some controversial views he has expressed. In addition, he has aspirations of being a song writer and seeks out the spokesman for the NWA (also a country singer) to get a song he wrote recorded.

Mitch (the spokesman) gives Red and his friend a job on his ranch. Through the course of the investigation, the spokesperson for the NWA becomes a suspect for the murder – and a liability to the NWA. This produces another subplot when an attempt is made to kill him but instead he kills the person sent. Mitch convinces Red and his friend to hide the body for him.

Obviously it was interesting to see how the initial murder and the subsequent murder were solved. It was also interesting how a cold case murder is made relative to this story and how it plays a part in the current story. This cold case gets solved as well.

There were other ways the author made this story interesting. For example, it was funny to hear our game warden recall some hilarious calls he had in the past. In on case, a lady complaining about deer eating her flowers suggests a solution. The solution is to relocate a deer crossing sign so the deer want cross near her property – and flowers.

The author’s use of John Marlin’s best friend (Colby) to get a ring for his love interest was also interesting. The bantering Marlin got from his friend was hilarious. In a way it showed how the competent game warden was not as sure in the area of understanding women.

I would suggest this book (and other books in the series) to anybody who likes light mysteries with humor.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


This is the January selection for our mystery reading club - Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. This was an interesting book. It was interesting how the author switched tenses - from present to past and back. At first I did not know this was what she was doing but it became apparent as the story developed.

The story line seemed to start off as a simple story but then developed into a bigger story. It started out as a case of illegal immigrants enslaved as prostitutes. Tess takes this into a conspiracy involving connections with the mob and the government.

Another thing I liked about this book was the use of several major characters. There were more major players than I first suspected. It was obvious the pregnant Jane Rizzolli, a Boston police detective, and Maura Isles, a Boston Medical Examiner, were going to have major parts in the story line. Other major characters were used as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to our book club discussion. I do not want to give anything away here.