Reviews: Spillane, Deaver, Wolff novels provide summer of thrills

If you’re looking to spice up your summer reading with thrills and mystery, look no further than these three titles:

A life for government secrets

Beside the Syrian Sea

BESIDE THE SYRIAN SEA
By James Wolff
Bitter Lemon Press 
$14.95
ISBN 9781908524-980
Publication Date:  May 15, 2018

Information, as Jonas Worth equates it, is “a currency more sought-after than cash.” Worth, a British intelligence worker, knows this firsthand. But he faces a weighty moral dilemma: Can he trade his access to government secrets to the terrorist organization of ISIS, even if it means saving the life of his kidnapped father?

Author James Wolff, who is himself a former British government worker, poses that question for his main character, Jonas, in his gripping debut spy thriller Beside the Syrian Sea ($14.95, Bitter Lemon Press).

At first, Jonas’s own government, along with the Foreign Office and the police, implores him to simply be patient: “It’s a waiting game.” He is told in no uncertain terms that the people holding his father will eventually come under the control of more moderate forces who in turn can be persuaded to release their hostages without paying a ransom, which is against British government policy.

But after three months of anxious waiting, Jonas’ patience wears thin.

Set in Beirut, Wolff masterfully pulls off this complex modern-day spy thriller in convincing fashion.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Lincoln Rhyme returns

The Cutting Edge

THE CUTTING EDGE
By Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing | $28.00
978-1455536429
April 10, 2018

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back for another head-scratching puzzle in Jeffery Deaver’s newest novel, The Cutting Edge. This one – the fourteenth in the series to feature the intrepid, quadriplegic detective – begins with a shocking triple murder during an apparent holdup in New York City’s diamond district–where diamonds are cut from raw stones into tiny, expensive baubles.

When a witness walks in on the murders in progress and is almost killed before he can get away, the novel becomes a game a cat and mouse as both the murderer and the cops race to find the witness first. As Sachs follows the physical clues, Rhyme, assisted by a team of officers, examines video evidence that can help track the potential witness, who, naturally, doesn’t want to be found by anyone.

 

Deaver’s prose is straightforward and the action comes fast and furious. Tight chapters keep readers from getting bored.  And there is more to the story than just solving the crime.  The reader will also benefit from a master class full of information about the diamond industry as well as an inside look at the lives of diamond cutters.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Mickey Spillane lives again!

The Last Stand

HE LAST STAND
By Mickey Spillane
Hard Case Crime | $22.99
9781785656866
March 20, 2018

The grand master of mystery/pulp fiction and creator of private detective Mike Hammer may have passed away in 2006, but fans marked what would have been his 100thbirthday on March 20 with a new novel. Billed as his final completed, unpublished novel, The Last Stand hits bookstores courtesy of Hard Case Crime.

While it’s not the gritty, in-your-face detective noir Spillane was famous for, and Hammer is absent from its pages, The Last Stand is nonetheless an entertaining adventure.

The novel begins when pilot Joe Gillian’s BT-13A  plane inexplicably loses power during an old-timer’s cross-country junket, forcing him to land in a desert somewhere in the U.S. But it’s the discovery of an unusual glass-like arrowhead of unknown substance and origin that provides the mystery, and impetus, for the remainder of the story. The shard draws the attention of both ruthless businessman Maxie Angelo and a cadre of federal agents, all of whom want the shard and any similar artifacts at any cost.

Combined with his trademark sharp dialogue and simple prose style, he keeps the tale moving at an entertaining clip.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

 

Review: Tatjana Soli recounts dangerous lives on American plains

Our lives are always one step from being displaced—and replaced—by something new and unexpected, and it’s up to each of us to determine if and ultimately how to adapt. Tatjana Soli, the bestselling author of The Lotus EatersThe Forgetting Treeand The Last Good Paradise, weaves two such tales together in her stunning new historical novel, The Removes.

The Removes

THE REMOVES
By Tatjana Soli
Sarah Crichton 
$27.00 
ISBN 9780374249311 
Published 06/12/2018

Beginning during the Civil War and continuing into the height of the Indian wars in the 1870s, the novel follows two women whose old lives are forfeited—one by choice, one not.

In the case of 15-year-old Anne Cummins, her life-changing event occurs when Cheyenne warriors brutally attack her homestead, killing her parents and siblings, friends and neighbors, before taking her captive. Facing starvation and abuse from her captors, Anne quickly learns to become useful to the tribe’s survival—or else she may be “quickly dispatched.”

Libbie Bacon, by contrast, voluntarily gives up a life of refined luxury as the daughter of a small-town judge to marry flamboyant Civil War hero and longtime beau George “Autie” Armstrong Custer, even going so far as to accompany his half-starved, desperate troops to the bloody fields of battle. Heralded as heroes at the conclusion of the war, Libbie and Autie face removal once again with the assignment to the 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas, trading their fame “for the empty prairie, crude clapboard buildings, and poor rations.”

“It was a reckoning,” Libbie mused. “As if their pride had grown out of proportion, and they were being slapped down into their places.”

For these women, with devastating losses on both sides of the war and with their own lives in horrific turmoil, “it seemed easier to die than to live.” But neither Anne nor Libbie is the type to give up, even as their lives ultimately race toward an unavoidable collision on the frontier. Soli’s novel is both gut-wrenchingly violent and heart-wrenching, but above all, it’s an unforgettable journey of loss and hope.

Review: Warlight’s hero grows up amid the secrets, wreckage of war

Warlight

WARLIGHT
By Michael Ondaatje
Knopf 
$26.95 
ISBN 9780525521198 
Published 05/08/2018

Learning who you are and, perhaps more importantly, who you are meant to be isn’t easy. Nathaniel Williams, the young hero of Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel, Warlight, spends much of his adolescence and later years pondering this.

The author of the Booker Prize-winning The English Patient, Ondaatje confounds his 14-year-old protagonist from the outset when the boy’s parents announce they are going away for a year and that he and his 15-year-old sister, Rachel, will be left in the care of a strange acquaintance known as the Moth, a man they are certain is a criminal. In 1945 England, at the end of World War II, Nathaniel and Rachel must adjust to their newfound parental abandonment and accept the Moth’s warning “that nothing was safe anymore.”

As narrated through Nathaniel’s intimate firsthand perspective, the siblings test their new guardian by rebelling at school. But instead of meeting a stern lashing for their behavior, they are surprised by the Moth’s calm understanding and protective demeanor. Equally surprising is the cast of unusual characters associated with the Moth who wind up staying at their house, including Norman Marshall, better known as the Pimlico Darter, a smuggler and racer of greyhound dogs.

The siblings drift further from each other as Nathaniel finds a surrogate father in the Darter and Rachel is drawn closer to the Moth. Events cascade with the surprising return of their mother, Rose. But this isn’t a cheerful reunion, as her abandonment and silence about her secretive service in the war have a profound effect on her children and leave more questions than answers—questions that plague Nathaniel well into adulthood and long after his mother’s death.

Contemplative and mysterious, Warlight is utterly engrossing.

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage.

Review: Charles Frazier makes long-awaited return to the Civil War

by G. Robert Frazier

Varina

VARINA
By Charles Frazier
Ecco 
$27.99 
ISBN 9780062405982 
Published 04/03/2018

The First Lady of the South, Varina Davis, made the best of her life one day at a time. Her only other option—to take her own life with the tiny revolver given to her by her husband, Confederate President Jefferson Davis—was one she chose not to embrace.

Told in a nonlinear fashion to one of her long-lost children, renowned author Charles Frazier’s new novel, Varina, recounts her life both before and after the nation’s bloody Civil War in mesmerizing fashion. Her journey begins as a teenager when she marries the already widowed “Jeff” Davis as a matter of convenience, believing that doing so will result in a secure lifestyle on his Mississippi plantation. Through periods of on-again, off-again romance, Varina and Davis have several children. She even rescues a black child, James Blake, from a beating and makes him part of the family.

When Davis enters politics and is appointed president of the Confederacy, Varina’s complicity makes her equally culpable. With Richmond falling to Union forces, Varina is forced to take the children and flee south. Varina relates the group’s slow, arduous travels on the country’s back roads, contending against inclement weather, disease, roving brigands and bounty hunters. In an uncertain time when refugees—“hungry, desperate rebel soldiers and freed slaves alike”—are unsure what is to become of them, Varina inspires her family to “just keep going one more day and one more day after that.”

Frazier, best known for his National Book Award-winning novel Cold Mountain, returns to form with this emotional and often harrowing depiction of a complicated woman. While Frazier paints Varina as a strong mother and staunch defender of her husband, he skillfully shows the consequences of her complicity in Davis’ decisions. Frazier contrasts that with her later life as a writer in New York as she strives for the reconciliation of a fractured nation, even if it means admitting “that the right side won the war.”

Note: This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Charles and I are not related.

Review: Knox’s Sirens a moody, noirish crime thriller

by G. Robert Frazier

SirensDebut novelist Joseph Knox has crafted a bleak and gritty crime thriller with Sirens ($27, Crown), perfect for fans of Mike Hammer and other pulp-era detectives. All the elements are in place: a disgruntled, disgraced police detective, seedy bars, sexy women, ruthless thugs, corrupt cops, and treachery at every turn. Pity hero Aidan Waits, who has to run the gauntlet in his pursuit of justice and, above all, his own redemption.

An addict himself, Waits is thrust into the novel’s bleak underworld when he is forced to penetrate drug lord Zain Carver’s criminal empire and root out the bad seeds. Complicating matters is an extracurricular assignment, arranged in cooperation with his police superiors, to keep an eye on Isabelle Rossiter, the runaway daughter of a deep-pocketed local politician.

When Isabelle overdoses on a bad batch of Eight, the stakes, and the tension, multiplies as Waits must work with Carver to get the rest of the tainted drugs off the street and find out who wanted Isabelle dead.

That’s enough to make Sirens  intriguing and compulsively readable in itself, but Knox makes sure to add an emotional layer to events that actually make you care about Waits and his misfit cast. The action may be sparse, but the writing here is atmospheric, moody, and moving, setting the novel apart on an ever-crowded bookshelf. Knox is a name to watch.

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

 

Books: Gritty PI’s, deadly spies provide plenty of thrills

By G. Robert Frazier

If you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat thrillers or tough-as-nails private investigators, these books have you covered.

A-List

A List - DP LyleWhen A-list actor Kirk Ford wakes up next to a deceased woman in a New Orleans hotel, his arrest for her murder threatens to derail his career and ruin a multi-million dollar Hollywood film series. Enter Jake Longly and a team of investigators determined to find the truth behind the murder.

A-List, written by cardiologist and forensics expert D.P. Lyle, is billed as a thriller, but more accurately is an old-school whodunit mystery. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Longly and company – his father, Ryan, girlfriend and fellow investigator Nicole Jamison, and computer expert/muscle Tommy Jeffers, aka Pancake – are more than up to the challenge, whether it comes from the begrudging police detective in charge Troy Doucet  to the less-than-friendly assistance of the local mafia don, Tony Guidry, whose niece was the victim.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Operator Down

Operatop DownAn American arms dealer trying to move nuclear weapons components and a planned coup in a small South African country intersect in Brad Taylor’s newest thriller, Operator Down. But it’s the kidnapping of former Israeli agent Aaron Bergman that really ups the ante for Taskforce member Pike Logan and company.

Logan, as usual, is calm, cool, and calculating regardless of the circumstances and the odds against him. He takes great care in planning each action and subsequent reaction. What he can’t plan for, however, is the desperate, and at times reckless, actions of Aaron’s partner, Shoshana, who is hell-bent to rescue him, consequences be damned.

If Logan can’t control her temper, the whole mission and Aaron’s life itself could be at risk…

We know Logan’s team will prevent the nuclear sale…and we expect him to save Aaron, who has become one of the series’ most popular characters. But it’s fun getting there all the same.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Order to Kill

Order to Kill - Vince FlynnVince Flynn’s CIA agent Mitch Rapp is in good hands with author Kyle Mills, who takes Rapp to the limit in his latest novel, Order to Kill ($28.99, Atria Books). This time around, Rapp is called upon to ferret out the location of nuclear fuel stolen from a half dozen Pakistani warheads and prevent the fissile material from being detonated in a series of dirty bombs.

Rapp goes deep undercover, taking on the identity of an American ISIS recruit. In doing so, he subjects himself to a ferocious beating at the hands of a friend in order to mimic the wounds inflicted on the actual recruit by interrogators.

Mills writes with authority and skill, making him a worthy successor to Flynn, who died in 2013. His prose literally puts you in the middle of the action so that you feel like you are ducking bullets right alongside Rapp.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Blood Truth

Blood-TruthPrivate investigator Rick Cahill’s latest case becomes his most personal to date in Blood Truth, the fourth novel in the thrilling Cahill series by Matt Coyle.

This time around, Cahill’s world is turned upside down when he is presented with a long-hidden wall safe found in his father’s home that, when opened, yields secrets that could confirm his father’s corruption and reasons for being kicked off the police force. Inside the safe: a stash of $15,000 in cash, a gun, and two bullet casings, all possibly tied to a murder twenty years ago.

Cahill, along with PI friend Moira McFarlane, turn over every stone in his father’s past, interviewing his old acquaintances, co-workers, and the reporter who covered the case in search of clues. Their investigation soon draws the attention of others who want to keep the truth buried at all costs, even if that means eliminating Cahill and McFarlane in the process.

 

If you’re looking for a fast-paced mystery packed with emotional punch, this one’s a winner.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

 

From frontier justice to international terror, put these on your TBR list

by G. Robert Frazier

Whether you are looking for frontier justice or international suspense, you’ll find a book for you among my latest book reviews.

Only Killers and Thieves

Only Killers and ThievesThe story of a frontier family’s murder by a tribe of native peoples and the ensuing quest for vengeance has been written before. It’s a staple of many Western novels. What sets Only Killers and Thieves (Harper, $26.99) apart is its locale: not the late 19th-century American West but the untamed wilderness of the Australian outback.

The novel begins innocently enough, with teen brothers Billy and Tommy McBride on a hunting expedition…but when the boys discover their parents slain and their young sister, Mary, barely clinging to life, they must swallow their father’s pride and seek help from his nemesis, a deeply racist land baron called John Sullivan.

Only Killers and Thieves is brutally violent and shocking, from its depiction of racial bias to its savage realism, but at its heart, it is a coming-of-age novel.

Read the full review at BookPage.

Chicago

Chicago-David MametDavid Mamet hasn’t published a novel in 20 years, but he makes up for it in every way with Chicago (Custom House, $26.99). Set during the height of Prohibition, the novel follows intrepid reporter Mike Hodge, whose nose for news only serves to get him into trouble. While other reporters at the Chicago Tribune make an effort to stay under the radar of City Hall, mobster Al Capone and even their own publisher, Mike constantly looks for rocks to turn over and skeletons to expose.

Movie buffs will immediately recall Mamet’s screenplay for The Untouchables about the legendary showdown between FBI Agent Eliot Ness and Capone. Whereas the movie was a tense, action-packed shoot’em-up, Chicago is a more methodical whodunit, though fraught with plenty of tense peril of its own.

Every page is layered with sharply drawn, often biting dialogue. Some of the conversations are so thick you may have to read them twice to catch everything, but they’re so good you won’t mind one bit.

Read the full review at BookPage.

Barbed Wire Heart

Barbed Wire HeartHarley McKenna wasn’t raised to be a good girl. She wasn’t raised to be someone’s perfect wife. Harley McKenna was raised to kick ass and take names.

In YA author Tess Sharpe’s first novel for adults, Barbed Wire Heart ($36, Grand Central), Harley is the daughter of Duke McKenna, one of the meanest, most ruthless crime kingpins in the backwoods of North California where guns, drugs and violence are a way of life. Death awaits anyone who crosses him or threatens his daughter. But Duke knows he can’t be there to protect her all the time, so he trains her the only way he knows how. Every moment of her life is punctuated with brutal lessons in how to survive, how to thrive and, if necessary, how to kill. These are skills Harley calls upon again and again as she learns her role in the family’s meth-making business.

Barbed Wire Heart is a gritty, bloody, in-your-face affair and definitely not for the faint of heart. Her heroine is fiercely independent, morally complex and desperate to forge her own path to freedom—no matter the cost. She is, after all, a McKenna.

Read the full review at BookPage.

The Night Market

The Night MarketIf you’re looking for a good book to curl up with and lull you to sleep, don’t read Jonathan Moore’s The Night Market—it’ll keep you awake all night.

Moore’s latest novel is a noirish, moody mystery shrouded with conspiracies that would make any “X-Files” fan rejoice. The story begins routinely enough with its main protagonist, homicide investigator Ross Carver and his partner, Jenner, being dispatched to the scene of an apparent murder in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. But things quickly take an unexpected and somewhat gory turn when the rapidly deteriorating body is examined. As Carver and Jenner begin making their initial assessment, they’re suddenly surrounded by federal agents in full hazmat suits and are whisked away from the crime scene.

When Carver awakens three days later in his apartment, he has no knowledge of the past three days’ events, including the bizarre murder scene.

Moore expertly paints a bleak cityscape for our hero, and in this world, no one can be trusted, and dangerous secrets are just waiting to be uncovered.

Read the full review at BookPage.

Wave of Terror

Wave of TerrorJon Jefferson’s newest novel, Wave of Terror (Thomas & Mercer, $15.95)  explores a terrorist plot on a scale that would put 9/11 to shame. Jefferson is best known as half the mystery-writing team of Jefferson Bass, of The Body Farm fame, but this book is not about the discovery of a badly decomposing body and the resulting forensics investigation. Instead, Jefferson has crafted a compelling, action-packed spy thriller that’s part James Bond and part big-budget disaster movie.

Events begin innocently enough as astronomer Megan O’Malley, a “rising star of the Johns Hopkins astronomy department,” takes advantage of a three-day sabbatical to use the Isaac Newton Telescope on Spain’s La Palma Island (part of the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa) in her search for Planet Nine. … But each time O’Malley aligns the telescope to conduct her search of the heavens, it inexplicably shifts, ruining her night of stargazing.

O’Malley’s dogged investigations ultimately reveal a doomsday scenario—deliberate explosions along a major fault line through La Palma that could result in a major earthquake, causing a massive tsunami. FBI Special Agent Chip Dawtry … is handed O’Malley’s report with its wild theory about the terrorist risk, and he rushes to La Palma to investigate. Hoping to prevent the unthinkable from happening, the two protagonists race to determine who has been blasting on La Palma even as the culprits behind the plot close in on them.

Dawtry and O’Malley are a likable, fun pair with a clear passion for justice.

Read the full review at Chapter 16.

 

Books: Tom Hanks a proven storyteller on film, on page with Uncommon Type

by G. Robert Frazier

Tom Hanks can write fiction. Yes, actor Tom Hanks. That Tom Hanks.

 

Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type: Some Stories
By Tom Hanks
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95
ISBN:  978-1101946152

Hanks recently published a collection of seventeen short stories, Uncommon Type (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95) , and it’s an enjoyable read overall. Many of the stories evoke nostalgic memories of times and places gone by. Simpler times, simpler places.

 

The tales are often heartwarming and amusing — and sometimes surprising, as in the long-distance, cross-time love affair of “The Past is Important to Us,” in which a time traveler constantly revisits the same day in 1939 to be with the girl of his dreams only to overstay his duration with disastrous results. There’s even a short screenplay, “Stay With Us, “ which makes sense given Hanks’ body of filmworks. In “These Are the Meditations of My Heart,” a young woman longs to make an indelible, permanent mark on her life using an antique typewriter. “Three Exhausting Weeks” offers a humorous, whirlwind love affair in which the narrator can’t possibly keep up with his new girlfriend’s flamboyant lifestyle despite his best efforts. But Hanks also weaves several emotional journeys as well, such as “A Special Weekend,” in which his young protagonist experiences his most memorable birthday ever, and “Welcome to Mars,” in which a teenage surfer learns of his father’s secret transgressions.

Hanks excels in creating a sense of place immediately identifiable to readers – we’ve all been there or all remember similar places in our own past – and in crafting believable, likable characters. These are people you meet on the street or people in your own family. Aunts, uncles, salesmen, housewives, children, all with yearnings and desires that are instantly recognizable.

Hanks intersperses the tales with frequent dispatches from fictional journalist Hank Fiset, who presents a series of entertaining newspaper columns while bemoaning the current state of the industry.

While they may lack in action and thrills, Hanks’ stories are a welcome and comforting diversion from an accomplished storyteller, be it on celluloid or on page.

Massacre of Mankind impressive but overly long sequel to H.G. Wells classic

by G. Robert Frazier

Before I sat down to read Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind (Crown, $27) – the sequel to H.G. Wells’s classic The War of the Worlds – I decided to reacquaint myself with the original. I’m glad I did.

Massacre of Mankind

The Massacre of Mankind
Stephen Baxter
Crown, $27
ISBN: 978-1-5247-6012-0

Yes, stylistically it is a little stale. There’s hardly any dialogue, but the story still holds up. Hey, that’s why it’s a classic.

Wells managed in just a couple hundred words to weave a shocking narrative of mankind’s first interaction with an alien species. The story moves at breakneck pace and is nothing short of terrifying as the Martians march all over England in their pursuit of total annihilation and conquest.

I was eager to see the tale continue with Baxter’s follow-up, which was fully authorized by the H.G. Wells Estate. Baxter, as you may know, is a multiple award-winning  author in his own right, having received the Locus Award, the Philip K. Dick Ward, the British Science Fiction Award, and the John W. Campbell Award. He has been nominated numerous times for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Hugo Award. Who better to scribe an official sequel to the greatest martian invasion story ever told?

And, for the most part, no one can argue with that.

Massacre is a fitting continuation of the original saga, right down to Baxter’s uncanny ability to capture Wells’s style to the letter. In a way, it’s as if Baxter is a reincarnation of Wells. So far, so good.

Wells’s original narrator, Walter Jenkins, returns after fourteen years with a warning that another martian invasion is imminent, and it doesn’t take long before the first Martian cylinders begin to make their arrival. As before, the Martians quickly begin their conquest of earth, subjecting any opposition to its lethal heat rays and deadly black smoke.

Better yet, the story doesn’t just regurgitate the invasion. Instead, it expounds and expands and enhances upon Wells’s original in new, exciting directions. The earth has cherry-picked through the Martians’ leftovers from the last invasion, using what it can to enhance its own technology. There are real-life characters added to the mix, such as Winston Churchill. There are Venetians, who are slaves to the Martians. There are more direct encounters with the Martians themselves outside of their war machines. And there is betrayal from within, as some people cooperate with the Martians in order to prevent their own annihilation.

There is action on both sides of the Atlantic, as we see the fight for earth take on a truly global scale with war fronts in not just England, but New York, Los Angeles, Australia, Germany, and India.  The cast of characters increases exponentially as well.

And, perhaps, that’s where this book ultimately begins to unravel somewhat. The huge scope of Massacre and shifting points of views and locales, while recreating an impressive scope, diminishes the emotional journey of our lead character. Whereas WOTW largely focused on Jenkins’ own experiences, Massacre darts from one character to the next with almost reckless abandon.

As a result, Massacre, unfortunately, becomes a mashed-up mess. Just as it is building steam with one storyline, we’re yanked halfway across the globe to another situation and another cast entirely. While that does build suspense and anticipation to get back to the initial storyline, the effect is somewhat jarring and unsatisfying. It makes you, as a reader, yearn for the simplicity that Wells embraced in the original. (Did I mention that Massacre clocks in at nearly 500 pages?)

The ultimate question is whether Massacre will become a classic in its own right, or whether it will only serve as a footnote to the original. As with all things, time will tell.

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

Five can’t miss books for your fall reading list

by G. Robert Frazier

Here’s a roundup of my latest book reviews. All good reads, but if I had to pick a favorite from the bunch I’d go with Parting Shot by Linwood Barclay.

Parting Shot by Linwood Barclay

Parting ShotFrom the opening pages, Barclay lays out the hook: Brian Gaffney, a naive and innocent looking young man, arrives at the Promise Falls police station babbling about having been abducted, possibly by aliens, and having lost two days of his memories.

Detective Barry Duckworth begrudgingly takes the case and soon discovers there’s much more to Gaffney than he initially thought: specifically, a fresh tattoo on his back that seems to be a cryptic confession to murder.

Duckworth has plenty to sort out here, and readers will be eager to go along for the ride. Did Gaffney really kill someone? If so, who? Where’s the body? Why can’t Gaffney remember the past two days? Was he really abducted?

There’s much more to it, of course, or it wouldn’t be a Barclay book.

Click here for my full review.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

A new Nelson DeMille book typically means readers are in for nail-biting action, a high The Cuban Affairstakes plot, a romantic diversion and wry, witty humor. The Cuban Affair satisfies all of those criteria, and ups the ante with a unique setting, the communist island nation itself.

At the root of the novel is a quest to recover 60 million dollars in funds hidden away during Castro’s revolution. Cuban-American Sara Ortega entices ex-Army officer Daniel Graham MacCormick—better known as Mac—away from his idyllic retirement as a charter fishing boat captain based in Key West to provide transport for the funds back to America. Getting onto the island is easy. But once there, their every move is being watched, the Cuban police are poised to close in and treachery awaits at every turn.

Click here for my full review.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13After a young girl—Rebecca or Becky or Bex Shaw—goes missing on New Year’s Eve on the frozen moors of an unnamed English village, the community members each must deal with her loss in their own way. Some mourn longer than others. Some have constant dreams and fears of what may have befallen her. Others hold onto the slimmest of hopes that she will be found safe and sound. Most manage to let go and move on, even though the hurt of that day always remains. Jon McGregor chronicles it all over a period of 13 long, tiresome years in Reservoir 13.

Despite the unusual style—no direct dialogue and no paragraph breaks here—McGregor’s lyrical prose and sense of detail totally immerse the reader. Reaching the end of a chapter is like coming up for a brief gulp of air before diving in to see what happens next.

The novel was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Click here for my full review.

Savage Country by Robert Olmstead

Savage CountryA rattlesnake causes a horse to throw its rider. A lightning bolt strikes a man sitting by a campfire. A rabid skunk bites another man in the face, giving him rabies. A flash flood threatens to sweep away men and supplies both. Racial tensions escalate among workers. The remnants of an Indian massacre are found. And thousands of buffalo are casually slaughtered day after day.

It’s a savage country.

Or, to be more precise, it’s Savage Country, the new novel by Robert Olmstead. The acclaimed author of Coal Black Horse, which won the Heartland Prize for Fiction, Olmstead weaves a grim, visceral portrait of life in Midwest America in 1873 with powerful, brutal and often beautiful prose.

Click here for my full review.

Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen

Lightning MenThe line between right and wrong quickly blurs in Thomas Mullen’s new novel, Lightning Men. The follow-up to his intensely powerful story of Atlanta’s first black cops, Darktown, his latest picks up two years later, in 1950, but is well-crafted enough to stand on its own.

This time, black police officers Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith stumble upon a shipment of moonshine and marijuana destined for their traditionally black neighborhood. When they attempt to apprehend the white suspects—despite black officers not being allowed to arrest whites—a deadly shootout ensues, leaving one man dead and dozens of questions unanswered.

Lightning Men transcends typical genre stories by highlighting the real-life racial divide of 1950s Atlanta that is rarely discussed, but should never be forgotten.

Click here for my full review.