Never-Open Desert Diner evokes mystery, suspense

by G. Robert Frazier

Hidden in plain sight, in the wide open expanse that is the Utah desert, lie mysteries best left alone.

DThe Never Open Desert Dinerelivery truck driver Ben Jones, for the most part, heeds that warning and largely respects the privacy of the desert’s oddball collection of characters on his route near Price, Utah. That is, until he encounters and becomes enamored by the mysterious woman hiding in an abandoned model home.

That’s the setup for James Anderson’s suspenseful debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner (Crown, $26).

The colorful cast—including a roadside Jesus, a motorcycle-loving hermit, and a pair of brothers lying low the law—are as unique as the setting itself. Each has a past and secrets to keep as they eke out their existence under a hot desert sun, far removed from internet and TV and other modern conveniences of life.

Ben typically keeps to himself as much as his customers, but his infatuation with the new woman on his route, Claire, changes everything.

Part love story, part suspense-mystery, Ben is drawn to Claire like no one else in his life. Everything about her mystifies and entices him to learn more about her, despite his better judgment.

Naturally, her past—an overbearing husband and her role in the theft of a priceless cello—threaten to catch up to her. Before long, Ben is swept up in a dangerous game of hide and seek.

Anderson crafts simple yet eloquent prose as he delves into Ben and Claire’s growing relationship and slowly ramps up the suspense as Claire’s husband closes in. A few subtle twists take the novel in a surprising new direction and ups the ante for the misanthropic cast.

Somewhere along the way, the story gains some of its intrigue from a terrifying secret at a once famous desert diner, now closed, and the lonely hermit who lives there.

The book evokes a powerful sense of place that echoes the loneliness and loss of the main players. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes brutal, Anderson recounts events with color and verve, making this a unique and largely satisfying page-turner.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: McGorin ‘Dusts Up’ more trouble for Detective Carrick

by G. Robert Frazier

Detective Doyle Carrick is a magnet for trouble. The hero of Jon McGoran’s latest novel, Dust Up (Forge Books), Carrick is at home with his girlfriend when a complete stranger appears frantically pounding on his front door, only to be shot down in cold blood.

Dust-Up_Cover-copy-200x291Homicide Detective Mike Warren embraces the easy way out by wanting to peg the crime on the victim’s wife, Miriam Hartwell, whom Carrick saw driving away from the scene. Fortunately for readers, the truth is a lot more complicated, as is often the case with Carrick’s adventures.

Carrick is urged to back off the investigation and let Warren handle things, but it’s not that simple. Miriam seeks him out again and fills him in on a biotech cover-up of a tainted food program in Haiti.

McGoran keeps the action moving at a frantic pace in a series of tautly written chapters that will have you turning the pages long into the night.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz a study in do-overs

The Passenger

Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.

You can read my review now at BookPage.

Review: Buckle up for Philip Donlay’s latest, Pegasus Down

by G. Robert Frazier

Before you crack open Pegasus Down (Oceanview Publishing), the new novel byPhilip Donlay, you better buckle up: You’re in for a hell of a ride. This action-thriller soars from start to finish with page-a-minute suspense and thrills to keep you riveted to your seat, just like an on-screen summer blockbuster.

Pegasus DownDonlay drops readers, and one of his main characters, right into the fray in his opening chapter as a CIA-operated Learjet crashes behind enemy lines somewhere in Eastern Europe. On board are Special Agent Lauren McKenna, code name “Pegasus”, and a recently liberated American scientist who possesses technological plans for a new stealth jet capable of delivering a nuclear device.

McKenna manages to swim free of the wreckage, and must immediately go on the run from foreign forces and a terrorist group that will stop at nothing to obtain the technology.

Read my full review at Killer Nashvillle.

Review: So, Anyway . . . I’ve got this complaint about this John Cleese book

By G. Robert Frazier

So, Anyway . . . I read this autobiography by Monty Python alum John Cleese, and I laughed. But certainly not as much or as hard as I hoped I might.

So, Anyway ...To be honest, the book is a bit dull at times. It’s not that Cleese’s life isn’t interesting. It is. I mean, the guy is wildly entertaining in his numerous classic sketches and standup routines on Python, and he’s starred in a few modestly funny movies. He can tell a pretty darn funny story.

Translating that humor from the small screen to the written page – or pages in the case of his book, aptly titled So, Anyway . . . (Three Rivers Press, $16) – is another matter. Sure, there are funny anecdotes here and there. And there are references to the brilliantly hilarious Python sketches he is renowned for. But they are few and far between.

I suppose that’s to be expected in an autobiography, where a lifetime of experiences are recounted to provide insight into who this man becomes. It is always interesting to learn more about the people who entertain us, but sometimes all we really need are the juicy bits.

Cleese instead regales us with his life story in a somewhat dry chronological blow-by-blow account that never really gets to the good bits fast enough. In fact, by page 255 of the nearly 376-page tome he still had not joined Python’s Flying Circus or recounted those experiences.

This is one autobiography where, for the sake of the reader, a little nonlinear storytelling would have gone a long way to increasing the readability, and laughability, of the book. I expected more from the man whose comedic genius gave us not only the popular TV series but films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and the sitcom Fawlty Towers.

I guess I’ll just take my complaint over to the Complaints Department.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Review: A Better Goodbye takes look at gritty underside of L.A.

by G. Robert Frazier

A Better GoodbyeYou know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.

It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: The Gap of Time updates Shakespeare for a modern audience

by G. Robert Frazier

It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of TimeWinterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.

For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.

If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.

Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.

The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.

Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23. 

Review: Steven James peels back twists in Every Crooked Path

by G. Robert Frazier

Every Crooked PathReading Every Crooked Path, the new novel by national bestselling author Steven James, is like peeling an onion: each layer of mystery pulled back reveals something more foul and evil than the last.

What starts as an investigation into a fatal stabbing takes a twisted turn when James’ recurring hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, uncovers a child exploitation ring on the Dark Web, a cyber world hidden away from the regular internet, where anonymous clients barter and trade in sexually explicit photographs of minors for their perverted pleasure and the profit of a mysterious cadre of webmasters.

James hooks readers right from the start, as within the first few pages Bowers is attacked at the crime scene in a Manhattan high-rise. Bowers manages to fend off his attacker, but before he can get anything out of him, the man jumps off the balcony to his death, leaving behind a key and a cryptic clue to an even larger conspiracy.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: Herman Koch’s The Dinner a tasty good read

by G. Robert Frazier

The main course of Herman Koch’s The Dinner  is deliciously twisted, and so too is the dessert. After reading this compulsively addictive novel, you’ll want to make it the topic of conversation at your next dinner with family and, perhaps, for many meals to come.

The DinnerOriginally published in the Netherlands in 2009, Hogarth – an imprint of Crown Publishing – has served up a new Extra Libris printing of the New York Times bestseller for connoisseurs of fine reading, with a reader’s guide as well as a behind-the-scenes essay and conversation with Koch. And it’s worth every juicy morsel.

The Dinner introduces readers to a pair of brother-and-wife couples during the course of an evening meal at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. But as the night wears on, the conversation – like the dinner itself – takes on a meatier tone. Masked beneath the gentle dab of a napkin and the fussy attentions of the restaurant’s manager (and his obtrusive pinky finger) is a family secret that threatens to spoil the couples’ friendship, their reputations, and very livelihoods.

Koch masterfully draws readers into the conversation, spoon-feeding tasty nuggets of information to us as if we were sitting at a nearby table eavesdropping for gossip. Much of the story takes place during a single evening, but Koch weaves in numerous flashbacks to deepen and enrich the characters’ feelings and relationships to each other like appetizers before the main meal.

The further we dig into the story the more we also learn of the narrator’s own secrets and the less trustworthy he becomes, adding a bit of spice and bitterness to the tale in the same sort of vein as Gone Girl’s unreliable narrators.

Ultimately, readers are left to chew on one insatiable question where it concerns not only the story’s main characters but in their own lives, and that is: how far would you go to protect your loved ones?

Koch is the author of eight novels and three short story collections. The Dinner has been published in twenty-five countries. Just desserts indeed.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.