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Book: “Agent X,” by Noah Boyd

“Agent X” (February 2011) is the second bestselling novel under the name Noah Boyd, which is a pen name of Paul Lindsey. Lindsey, who wrote a total of 7 novels, served as a Marine officer in Vietnam and then worked 20 years with the FBI. Unfortunately, he died at age 68 in September 2011 after a battle with leukemia. So this series may go no further.

Both Noah Boyd books revolve around former FBI agent Steve Vail, who now works as a freelance bricklayer in Chicago (thus the title of the first Boyd book, “The Bricklayer“). In both books, he gets dragged into complex criminal plots, and works alongside FBI agent and love interest Kate Bannon. They are an interesting team.

The defining characteristic of Vail is that he distrusts authority–especially in the FBI, which burned him. He’s the prototypical loner, the anti-establishment hero who gets things done by working outside the system. Think of a cerebral Dirty Harry with an FBI badge.

In Agent X, a Russian spy known as Calculus offers to give the FBI a list of Americans who are trading secrets to the Russians. Calculus is recalled to Moscow, a sign that he’s been found out. But Calculus left a series of cryptic clues–extremely cryptic–to the identities of the American traitors. The FBI needs to find these moles before the Russians start killing them off (to avoid embarrassment at being caught spying).

Vail comes to Washington DC to see Kate Bannon, and both are recruited for this urgent investigation. The American turncoats keep getting killed, and there are gun battles with the bad guys. But they keep at it.

The plot is quite complex. Calculus left very complicated clues, but Vail, of course, cracks them. However, things get so complicated that I, simpleton reader that I am, got confused at various stages. In some cases, I just gave up trying to keep things straight or understand what was happening, figuring it probably didn’t matter. And it didn’t. It would have been a better book, and much more believable, without this treasure hunt.

Paul Lindsey, aka Noah Boyd

Paul Lindsey, aka Noah Boyd

“Agent X” tells us a lot more about about Steve Vail, helping us understand why he is the way he is. That was nice. The relationship with Kate Bannon is quite back-and-forth and charged in this book (as it was, actually, in “The Bricklayer”), and for good measure Vail’s former partner, Luke Bursaw, is brought into the investigation. Through him, we learn a lot of Vail’s back story.

Boyd also uses much more dialogue, and tries to be witty in the banter between Vail, Bannon, and Bursaw. There is a kernel of cleverness in the dialogue, but too much of it sounds wooden, even corny. Like something I would write. Give the same conversation to Lee Child or Robert Parker, and it would work perfectly. Boyd is just terribly clunky with dialogue. I found myself cringing.

But he’s not clunky with pacing, or sparse when it comes to action. He gets too fancy, to the point of being confusing and unbelievable with the Calculus clues (which just weren’t necessary). But I could deal with that, because it was still a fun ride.

“Agent X” was a good book, but not as good as “The Bricklayer.” I only recommend it with some caveats. However, if Paul Lindsey had a third bricklayer book in the can before he died, I’ll probably read it.

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2010 Books Read

Books I Read in 2010

Here are the books I read in 2010. I rated them with 1-5 stars. The book must be truly phenomenal to get 5 stars. I read more books than normal in 2010 because I had three different surgeries. Lots of recovery time equals lots of reading time.

  1. *Self’s Deception (Bernhard Schlink)
  2. ***The Return of the Dancing Master (Henning Mankell)
  3. *Tokyo Year Zero (David Peace). A strange mystery set in Tokyo just after World War 2 ended, and the Americans are occupying the country. I didn’t like it.
  4. *****Pop. 1280 (Jim Thompson). A devious, psychotic–yet likable–sheriff narrates this story, as he goes about dispatching people who oppose him in ways major and minor. An amazing book.
  5. *The Transgressors (Jim Thompson)
  6. ****Dark of the Moon (John Sandford). The first Virgil Flowers book. A new protagonist from Sandford.
  7. ***Heat Lightning (John Sandford). The second Virgil Flowers book.
  8. ***Broken Prey (John Sandford).
  9. ***Phantom Prey (John Sandford)
  10. ***Mind’s Eye (Hakan Nesser)
  11. ***The Return (Hakan Nesser)
  12. ****North of Montana (April Smith)
  13. ****Judas Horse (April Smith)
  14. ***Moment of Truth in Iraq (Michael Yon)
  15. ***The Bottom Billion (Paul Collier)
  16. ***Fiasco (Thomas Ricks)
  17. ***Tears in the Darkness (Michael Norman)
  18. ***Helmet for My Pillow (Robert Leckie)
  19. ***The War Within (Robert Woodward)
  20. ****Joker One (Donovan Campbell)
  21. ****The Pyramid (Henning Mankell)
  22. ***Lost Echoes (Joe Lansdale)
  23. ****Sunset and Sawdust (Joe Lansdale)
  24. ****Stranger in Paradise (Robert Parker)
  25. ***The Shadow Walker (Michael Walters)
  26. *Seeking Whom He May Devour (Fred Vargas)
  27. *Tropical Freeze (James W. Hall)
  28. ***Eight Lives Down (Chris Hunter)
  29. ****The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson)
  30. *****The Galton Case (Ross MacDonald)
  31. ***Black Money (Ross MacDonald)
  32. ***Dirt (Stuart Woods)
  33. ****Chasing Darkness (Robert Crais)
  34. ***New York Dead (Stuart Woods)
  35. ***Dead in the Water (Stuart Woods)
  36. ***Swimming to Catalina (Stuart Woods)
  37. ***Shella (Andrew Vachss)
  38. ***The Getaway Man (Andrew Vachss)
  39. ***Hard Candy (Andrew Vachss)
  40. ****Rough Weather (Robert Parker)

  1. ***Persuader (Lee Child)
  2. **The Wounded and the Slain (David Goodis)
  3. **Fade to Blonde (Max Phillips)
  4. ***The Long Walk (Slavomir Rawicz)
  5. *****The Winter of Frankie Machine (Don Winslow)
  6. *Run for Your Life (James Patterson)
  7. ****Brimstone (Robert Parker)
  8. *****The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler)
  9. ****Flood (Andrew Vachss)
  10. ***The Lake of Darkness (Ruth Rendell)
  11. ****Strega (Andrew Vachss)
  12. ****Blue Belle (Andrew Vachss)
  13. ***Blossom (Andrew Vachss)
  14. ***Dead Street (Mickey Spillane)
  15. ****Where Men Win Glory (Jon Krakauer)
  16. ****Generation Kill (Evan Wright)
  17. ***The Grifters (Jim Thompson)
  18. **Passport to Peril (Robert Parker)
  19. *****The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
  20. ****Payback (Richard Stark)
  21. ****War (Sebastian Junger)
  22. *The Strain (Guillermo Del Toro/Chuck Hogan)
  23. **The Cutie (Donald Westlake)
  24. ***Worst Fears Realized (Stuart Woods)
  25. ***LA Dead (Stuart Woods)
  26. ***Dexter by Design (Jeff Lindsey)
  27. ***The Enemy (Lee Child)
  28. ****The Bricklayer (Noah Boyd)
  29. *Cross Country (James Patterson)
  30. ***Sacrifice (Andrew Vachss)
  31. ***Down in the Zero (Andrew Vachss)
  32. ****Safehouse (Andrew Vachss)
  33. ***The Dawn Patrol (Don Winslow)
  34. **Cirque de Freak (Darren Shan)
  35. **Eighth Grade Bites (Heather Brewer)
  36. **13 Bullets (David Wellington)
  37. ***The Two Bear Mambo (Joe Lansdale)
  38. **Playback (Raymond Chandler)
  39. **The Moving Target (Ross MacDonald)
  40. ***The Fabulous Clipjoint (Frederic Brown)
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2011 Books Read

Books I Read in 2011

Here are the books I read in 2011. I rated them with 1-5 stars. The book must be truly phenomenal to get 5 stars.

  1. ***Footsteps of the Hawk (Andrew Vachss). Number 8 in the Burke series.
  2. ***False Allegations (Andrew Vachss). Number 9 in the Burke series.
  3. ***Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (Seth Graham-Smith). A retelling of history, in which Lincoln is a master vampire killer. And it all fits! My review.
  4. ****I Am Number Four (Pittacus Lore). The first of a series about children from another planet, with growing superpowers, who are being hunted on earth by the Mogadorian race, which devastated their home planet. Very engrossing. My review.
  5. ****Matched (Ally Condie). Engrossing story about a girl in a dystopian future, where everything is tightly controlled. The state “matches” her with the spouse they intend for her, but another boy enters the picture. I really liked it. My review.
  6. ****The Man with the Getaway Face (Richard Stark). The second book in the “Parker” series, written pseudonymously by Donald Westlake.
  7. ***The Blonde (Duane Swierczynski). Like all Swiercyznski books, a quirky thriller. An ordinary guy is caught up in a plot in which he must stay within 10 feet of a mysterious blonde, or she’ll die–and she slipped him poison, and only she knows the antidote. There’s a big government conspiracy behind it all. My review.
  8. ****Hot (Mark Hertsgaard). Excellent, excellent book about climate change and what various countries and cities are doing to prepare for it.
  9. **Rough Country (John Sandford). The third Virgil Flowers books, and my least favorite so far. My review.
  10. ****The Professional (Robert Parker). The 37th Spenser novel. A little bit different than most Spenser fare, but totally worth reading. My review.
  11. ***The Longest War (Peter Bergen). Superbly reported history of Al Qaeda and our war with it. My review.
  12. ***Choice of Evil (Andrew Vachss). Number 10 in the Burke series. My review.
  13. ***Area 51 (Annie Jacobsen). The whole history of Area 51, with many government secrets revealed. Loved it. My review.
  14. ***Dead and Gone (Andrew Vachss). Number 11 in the Burke series. My review.
  15. ***Pain Management (Andrew Vachss). Number 12 in the Burke series. My review.
  16. **A Renegade History of the United States (Thaddeus Russell). A look at politically incorrect and off-beat areas of US history. Some interesting, thought-provoking stuff. My review.
  17. **Generation X-Christian (Drew Dyck). Understanding and dealing with people from the younger generations who grow up in the church, but reject Christianity as adults.
  18. **Love Wins (Robb Bell). A controversial book questioning the traditional teaching on hell. Raises lots of good questions, but not a serious academic book.
  19. *Murder at the Savoy (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo). A very disappointing book in the Martin Beck series. My review.
  20. *The Abominable Man (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo). A terrible, terrible book in the Martin Beck series. My review.
  21. ****One Shot (Lee Child). Five people are killed by a sniper, and Jack Reacher knows the guy arrested for their murders. Involves some brutal Russian gangsters. Good read. My review.
  22. ****The Hard Way (Lee Child). The head of a mercenary organization hires Reacher to find his kidnapped wife. Lots of twists and turns. One of the better Reacher books. My review.
  23. *A Death in China (Carl Hiaason/Montalban). Very so-so.
  24. ***Borkman’s Point (Hakan Nesser). Another Inspector Van Veeteren mystery, set in an unstated European country. A very good procedural series. My review.
  25. ***I, Alex Cross (James Patterson). A fairly typical Alex Cross (the 15th) book, this one involving a White House employee connected to a murder. My review.
  26. ***Bad Luck and Trouble (Lee Child). Another Reacher novel.
  27. ***The Renegades (T. Jefferson Parker, Aug. 19). The second Charlie Hood novel, following the excellent “LA Outlaws.” Very interesting structure, with two stories being told at once–the killer telling his story, and Hood trying to figure out who the killer is. My review.
  28. *The Woman Chaser (Charles Williford, Aug. 20). An odd little book from 1960. No real plot. Skip it, unless you’re a big Willeford fan (like I am). My review.
  29. *****City of Thieves (David Benniof, Sept. 5). Incredible book set during the siege of Petersburg during World War 2. Highly recommended. My review.
  30. *Magnificent 12: The Call (Sept. 13). A Free Book Friday piece of juvenile fiction I read on my Nook. Didn’t like it.
  31. ***The One from the Other (Phillip Kerr, Sept. 24). No my favorite Bernie Gunther novel, and the plot is quite complicated. But a superb book nonetheless. Set a few years after WW2 ends. My review.
  32. ***The Outfit (Richard Stark). The third book in the “Parker” series, written pseudonymously by Donald Westlake.
  33. ****The Power of Six (Pittacus Lore, Sept. 26). The sequel to I Am Number Four, and just as good. My review.
  34. *Ninth Grade Slays (Heather Brewer, Oct 9). Juvenile fiction involving a vampire child. The second in the series, and the last one I’ll read. Just didn’t keep my attention.
  35. ****Night of Thunder (Stephen Hunter, Oct 23). Fascinating Bob Lee Swagger novel set around the Bristol NASCAR race. Someone tries to kill Swagger’s daughter, and he comes to get revenge. Excellent book. My review.
  36. ****I, Sniper (Stephen Hunter, Oct 26). Carl Hitchkock, a renowned Vietnam sniper, is framed for several high-profile celebrity murders. Swagger is called in by the FBI to confirm that Hitchock committed the kills, but determines otherwise, and nobody likes it. Another superb Hunter book. My review.
  37. ****Nothing to Lose (Lee Child, Oct 28). Jack Reacher stumbles into trouble in a small Colorado town, and he can’t let it go. One of my favorite Reacher books. My review.
  38. **Agent X (Noah Boyd, Oct 30). The sequel to the much better “The Bricklayer.” Disappointing. My review.
  39. ****Blood Safari (Deon Meyer, Nov 3). A B&N Free Book Friday selection which introduced me to a remarkable writer. This was a truly excellent thriller, set in South Africa with a protagonist, Lemmer, whom I’ll be reading more about.
  40. ***Cross Fire (James Patterson, Nov 5). Kyle Craig is back, tormenting Alex Cross from very close range. My review.
  41. **The Strategically Small Church (Brandon O’Brien, Nov 5). Pointing out the strengths of smaller churches, and fiercely battling the current evangelical culture which emphasizes bigness and discredits the small.
  42. *The Drowning Pool (Ross MacDonald, Nov 12). Maybe my least favorite Lew Archer book. My review.
  43. ****Spade and Archer (Joe Gores, Nov 20). A delightful prequel to “The Maltese Falcon,” spanning 1921-1928. Shows how Sam Spade left the Continental agency and set up his own detective practice, and takes us through several cases. A really good book, and a pleasant surprise. My review.
  44. *The Gordion Knot (Bernhard Schlink, Nov 25). A strange little character-drive spy novel. The second book I’ve read by this German mystery writer, and I didn’t really care for either of them. My review.
  45. *The Man from Beijing (Henning Mankell, Dec 3. A mass-murder plot that starts out great, but ends disappointingly, with some glaring inconsistencies. My review.
  46. ***A Cure for Night (Justin Peacock, Dec. 6). An urban murder mystery involving, with a public defender as the protagonist. Very good. My review.
  47. ****Bad Blood (John Sandford, Dec. 16). The latest in the Virgil Flowers series. This one–maybe my favorite–involves sexual abuse in a cult-like religious community. My review.
  48. **Crossed (Ally Condy, Dec. 22). The sequel to the much better Matched, and the middle book of a planned trilogy set in a dystopian society. This is juvenile fiction. I loved Matched, but this one was disappointing in that very little was explained, and not much happened.
  49. ***The Maze Runner (James Dashner, Dec. 25). The first book of another juvenile fiction trilogy, also set (like Crossed) in a dystopian society. Really really liked this book.

My 10 Best of 2011

  1. City of Thieves, by David Benniot. Set in St. Petersburg, Russia, during World War 2. My review.
  2. Blood Safari, by Deon Meyer. My introduction to a fabulous South African writer.
  3. Hot, by Mark Hertsgaard. An artfully written look at the ramifications of a warming earth.
  4. Nothing to Lose, by Lee Child. Jack Reacher stumbles into trouble in a small Colorado town named Despair. My review.
  5. I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore. The first of a planned series about an alien war brought to earth. My review.
  6. Matched , by Ally Condie. A young girl comes of age in an interestingly-imagined dystopian society. My review.
  7. Night of Thunder, by Stephen Hunter. Bob Lee Swagger, master sniper and all-around tough guy, tackles a conspiracy built around the Bristol NASCAR race. My review.
  8. The Professional, by Robert Parker. The third-to-the-last Spenser novel written by the master, and it’s a good one. My review.
  9. Area 51, by Annie Jacobsen. The whole fascinating history of the super-secret chunk of Nevada known as Area 51. Loved it. My review.
  10. Spade and Archer, by Joe Gores. How Sam Spade, the famous Dasheill Hammett sleuth of “The Maltest Falcon,” got to be Sam Spade. My review.

Book: The Bricklayer

“The Bricklayer” is Noah Boyd’s debut novel, and it’s a great one. Lee Child, James Patterson, and Patricia Cornwell all praise the book in cover tributes.

The title character is Steve Vail, a former FBI agent who can’t stomach incompetent persons in positions of authority, which is why he quit (or was fired from) the FBI a few years back. But he was a very good agent. Now, he’s a bricklayer in Chicago.

Now, the FBI is being totally stymied by a series of murders, accompanied by extortion demands, from what appears to be a gang of maybe five people (based on the name they go by). Vail is recruited to try to find the bad guys, using somewhat off-the-books methods (since nothing official is working).

The plot moves along at a good pace, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader off-balance. A variety of characters enter the picture, and you wonder if any of them are bad guys in disguise. Vail works alongside Kate, a senior FBI agent who is, of course, beautiful. They have some adventures together, following leads which the FBI brass have either written off or don’t know about.

I pretty much guessed how the book would end up, but it was a lucky guess. This is a very, very good book. You’ll enjoy it. He’s got another book about Steve Vail in the works, too.

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