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2015 Books Read

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Books I’ve Read in 2015

Here are the books I read during 2015. I rate them with 1-5 stars. The book must be truly phenomenal to get 5 stars.

  1. ***The Instant Enemy (Ross MacDonald, 1968). Two young lovers kidnap a millionaire businessman, and Lew Archer is hired to get him back. There is a massive tangle of relationships which doesn’t really get resolved until the end. I wasn’t sure how it was going to end up, but wasn’t surprised at how it did. A good red. 1/2
  2. ***Wild Town (Jim Thompson). Ex-con hard-guy Bugs McKenna is hired as house detective in a hotel where lots of shady stuff goes on. In trying to untangle some shenanigans, things happen, and you don’t know who is good and who is bad. Classic Jim Thompson. 1/12
  3. ***Cropper’s Cabin (Jim Thompson, 1952). Tommy Carver is a rebellious, hot-tempered young man. His father hates him, his stepmom has a thing for him. He’s poor white trash having a fling with the daughter of a rich Indian farmer. Things happen. 1/20
  4. ***A Bomb Made in Hell (Andrews Vachss, 2012). The story of Wesley, the feared and legendary assassin from the Burke books. Oddly, I found Wesley less interesting here than in the sparse appearances he makes in the Burke books. 1/27
  5. ****3:00 (Nick Pirog, 2013). Henry Bins has Henry Bins Syndrome–he wakes up at 3am every day, and falls asleep at 4am every day. He gets a lot done during that one hour a day. One morning, just as the clock was hitting 3:59, he heard a woman scream. Looking out the window, he saw the President of the United States leaving the house next door. The next day, he discovers a dead woman inside the house. It gets real interesting, especially since it’s told in one-hour increments. Other Henry Bins stories are coming. I look forward to them. This one was only 80 pages long. 1/31
  6. ***Snuff the Magic Dragon (Leslie Langtry, 2013). Several stories from the Bombay family of assassins, including how the assassination business got started way back in Greek times. 2/4
  7. ***My Heroes have Always been Hitmen (Leslie Langtry, 2013). More stories from the Bombay family. The final book in the series. 2/9
  8. ****Private: Berlin (James Patterson/Mark Sullivan, 2013). A very interesting plot revolving around mysteries concerning what happened to orphans at a slaughterhouse during the Iron Curtain years. This is the first book about the Berlin office of Private Investigations. Jack Morgan, the founder, takes part in one of several plotlessness. 2/12
  9. ****Private: LA (James Patterson/Mark Sullivan, 2014). A group of bad guys are killing lots of innocent people in LA as they blackmail the city. That’s one of the two main plots. In the other, Thom and Jennifer Harlow, glamour couple actors with multiple Oscars, have disappeared. What happened to them? Their story gets sordid. Then there are minor plotlines involving Jack and his brother Tommy, and Justine and a guy named Paul. Excellent book. 2/15
  10. ***Private: Down Under (James Patterson/Michael White, 2014). Private Worldwide Investigations opens an office in Sidney, Australia, headed by Craig Gist. The book is told from his point of view (most of the time). There are three plots (as is the case with most Private books–Patterson is very formulaic). Chinese triads are going after the family of a former Hong Kong policeman. Someone is murdering women from an upscale neighborhood. And a rock star thinks somebody is trying to kill him. 2/21
  11. **The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (Jonathan Riley-Smith, 2011). A short book on the Crusades. Wasn’t quite what I wanted. It hit a couple of the Crusades, but didn’t give me the overview I wanted. 2/21
  12. ***This Time Together (Carol Burnett, 2011). A delightful book. It’s somewhat chronological, but not a typical biography. More a collection of short experiences from her life. There are, for instance, short chapter on each person in her TV show. I enjoyed reading it. 3/1
  13. ****A Touch of Death (Charles Williams, 1953). Lee Scarborough, a former college football star gets involved with a search for a missing fortune. There’s the widow, who probably killed her husband and knows where the cash is. There’s the gal who hires Scarborough. Other persons make an appearance. It’s very well done. I’ve read only one other Charles Williams book, and it was excellent, too. Must read more. 3/8
  14. ***Open Minds (Susan Kaye Quinn, 2013). Book one of the Mindjack Trilogy, a dystopian young adult series. Everyone in this society can reads minds…except Kira. She’s 16, and called a Zero because of her inability. But then she learns she can actually CONTROL people’s minds, make them do what she wants. And she’s not alone. It goes from there. She is pitted against the government (of course), and other things happen. Pretty interesting, I must say, though I was able to skim large sections and not lose anything. I’m not sure whether I’ll read more in the series. 3/11
  15. ****Dark Origins (Anthony Zuiker, 2009). The first book in the Level 26 series, with Duane Swierczynski. Murderers are ranked on a scale of 1-25. But there’s another level of mass murderer, Level 26, which this series deals with. In this book, it’s a fellow named Sqweegel, who is a totally unique serial killer. Steve Dark, who almost caught him several years before, is forced out of retirement to find him. But Sqweegel is going after Dark, too. Very interesting. Every few chapters, you’re directed to a website where you can watch a short video of a scene from the book. Those are very well done, with recognizable actors (like Michael Ironsides). 3/17
  16. ***Unknown (Didier Van Cauwelaert, 2004). Originally published as “Out of My Head,” but released in movie form as “Unknown.” A man comes out of a coma and finds his wife living with another man and not even recognizing him. Nobody recognizes him. It’s as if he never existed. So he tries to figure out what happened. A lot of psychology. 3/21
  17. ****Dark Prophecy (Anthony Zuiker, 2010). The second book in the Level 26 series, with Duane Swierczynski. It’s five years after the events of Dark Origins, and Steve Dark has left the special agency which tracks serial killers. But a new killer is on the loose, and Dark gets dragged into it through someone who apparently works for another secret government agency–the sister of a victim from one of Dark’s previous cases. Killings occur around the country, and Dark and Lisa Graysmith flit around after them. Very good book. 3/25
  18. ****Dark Revelations (Anthony Zuiker, 2012). The third book in the Level 26 series, with Duane Swierczynski. A man who calls himself Labyrinth is killing people around the world, always dropping elaborate clues with a riddle and props. Steve Dark joins a super-secret group based in Paris, Global Alliance, to catch Labyrinth. Good book. 4/4
  19. ****Fletch (Gregory MacDonald, 1974). Fletch is undercover, doing a newspaper story about drug-running on a beach. At the same time, a rich guy, thinking Fletch is just another druggie, asks Fletch to kill him. He says he’s dying of cancer, and wants a big insurance payoff to go to his family. These two plots run concurrently, and both are very interesting. The best Fletch book since “Fletch, Too.” 4/10
  20. **Fletch, Confess (Gregory MacDonald, 1976). Fletch flies into Boston to track down a collection of paintings stolen from his finance’s family. Upon entering the apartment where he is staying, he finds a dead woman on the floor. He calls the police, and he becomes the number of suspect. Great repartee between Fletch and Inspector Flynn, around whom MacDonald wrote another series of books. A bit slow moving, though. 4/16
  21. ****Objects of Wrath (Sean T. Smith, 2013). A very plausible apocalyptic thriller. When a Miami man sees what seems to be a nuclear exchange coming, he piles his family into a car and heads to Tennessee, where his father-in-law has been preparing for an end-of-the-world scenario. A large community is built there, amidst a very violent world. The book focuses on the son, who comes of age and becomes a leader. Spiritual themes are woven into the book in a non-overbearing way. I absolutely loved this book. It’s the first part of a trilogy. I’ll definitely be reading th next two books. 4/18.
  22. **The Bat (Jo Nesbo, 1997). Published in English in 2012, the first Harry Hole book. This is set in Australia, where Hole has been sent to observe a a murder case involving a Norwegian woman. A serial killer is at work. 4/25
  23. ****The Cross and the Lynching Tree (James Cone, 2013). An amazing book relating the Jim Crow legacy of lynching with the cross of Christ. I learned so, so much about black history–very disturbing stuff from the Jim Crow years. Cone’s insights really affected me. 4/23
  24. **Cockroaches (Jo Nesbo, 1998). Harry Hole is sent to Thailand to investigate the murder of the Norwegian ambassador. Not a very interesting book. 5/10
  25. *Ravenous (Erica Stevens, 2012). The first book of the Ravening series. Aliens have launched some kind of war against humanity, and most people are simply frozen in place, somewhere between dead and alive. Bethany, Cade, and others remain conscious, and find themselves trying to keep away from the aliens. I’m astonished at how little happens in this book, and how little the reader understands about what is happening. I won’t read any more of the series. 5/17
  26. ****Children of Wrath (Sean T. Smith, 2014). The second book of the trilogy, occurring about ten years after the first book. This time, the battle is against a cult-like leader working out of Salt Lake City. This man, Gideon, kidnaps William’s daughter. The action is non-stop. Love it. 5/28
  27. ****Wrath and Redemption (Sean T. Smith, 2015). The third book of the trilogy. Another ten years have passed. Ryder, William’s son, is now part of the Foxes, the elite commando unit trained by his father, William Fox. In Russia, the Tsar launched a war against America which is now based in Anchorage, Alaska. While Ryder and Chilli find themselves in Europe, William is in Alaska and the Russia. Meanwhile, bandits capture Crystal Fox and take her far away. A superb conclusion to the trilogy. 6/5
  28. **Hothouse Orchid (Stuart Woods, 2009). Holly Barker returns to Orchid Beach for some vacation, and gets involved in a case where women are being raped and killed. Way too many coincidences happen: the officer against whom she filed charges while in the military has become the police chief in Orchid Beach, and the other woman whom the guy assaulted turns up as a state policeman, whom Holly happens upon in Orchid Beach. Too much for me. 6/12
  29. **Kisser (Stuart Woods, 2010). Stone Barrington takes a case in which a young heiress needs to be separated from a shady guy who obviously has designs on her inheritance. Other stuff happens. Way too much sex. 6/18
  30. **Escape Into Daylight (Geoffrey Household, 2015). A novella set in England. A young boy wanders into the wrong place, and is kidnapped by a gang of men who are already holding a young girl, a school classmate, for ransom. They are kept underground in a very dark place. So they have to try to figure out how to get out, and when they do, how to stay free. Nothing particularly interesting happens, though. 6/21
  31. ***Enemy of Mine (Brad Taylor, 2014). The third Pike Logan thriller. I like Taylor, and I like his protagonist, Pike Logan. I also liked the two previous books better, but this one was okay. It’s set in the Middle East–Lebanon and Dubai–where Logan and his somewhat-girlfriend, Jennifer, fellow members of the super-secret TaskForce, are trying to thwart a plot to kill a US Middle East Envoy. An old enemy of Logan’s is involved, along with a new one, an Arab assassin known as the Ghost. It could have moved along a bit faster. 6/27
  32. **No Shelter (Robert Swartwood, 2011). Holly Lin is a government assassin, so she goes out on cases where she’s supposed to kill people. Lots of books have characters like this. This is my first Swartwood book, and enjoyed it, for the most part. 6/30
  33. ****The Serial Killer’s Wife (Robert Swartwood, 2011). Five years ago, Elizabeth’s husband went to prison for killing six people. She secretly relocated in Kansas. But now her son has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper wants her to retrieve her husband’s trophies–the ring fingers he cut off his victim’s hands. She’s given 100 hours, and thus begins a cross-country trek. This is an excellent book, with various twists. 7/1
  34. ****Blue City (Ross MacDonald, 1947). I’ve only read MacDonald’s Lew Archer books. This one is a stand-alone book featuring John Weather, a WW2 vet who comes back to his home city to discover that his father was assassinated two years before. He dives in to figure out what happened, landing amidst small-town gangsters, drug-dealers, prostitutes, crooked cops, crooked politicians, and assorted others. It’s an excellent piece of noir. Wonderfully written. 7/3
  35. **Auschwitz Belongs to Us All (Marta Ascoli). Ascoli was a Jewish child in Italy when she was transported to Auschwitz. This is her story. Some things I hadn’t heard before about the camps. A mere 75 pages. 7/4
  36. ****After Shock (Andrew Vachss, 2013). The first in a new trilogy told by Dell, a former French Foreign Legionnaire and assassin, now living with his wife, Dolly, a former nurse with Doctors Without Borders, on the Oregon coast. Young girls are being raped in their town, and a high school softball star takes matters into her own hands. To protect her younger sister, she walks into school, shoots the head of the gang doing the rapes, and then sits down until police arrive to arrest her. Most of what happens revolves around legal efforts to exonerate the girl. Very interesting story, with interesting characters. 7/11
  37. ****Alone (Robert J. Crane, 2012). Sienna Nealon is raised in solitude by her mother, never leaving the house for 10 years. Then one day, after her mother hasn’t returned for a week, two armed intruders invade the home. Sienna, highly trained in fighting skills, escapes from the house into the world she knows little about. Turns out others are looking for her, because she is a meta–a human with special abilities. She’s very fast, super strong, heals easily…and has other surprises. Which she’ll need against a super-meta named Wolf who is thousands of years old, and wants her very badly. 7/17
  38. ***Untouched (Robert J. Crane, 2013). The second in the series “The Girl in the Box,” featuring Sienna Nealon. She’s a meta, with special powers–including being a succubus, able to kill someone just by touching them. In this book, a meta who can fly and do all kinds of things with fire–like throw fireballs, and cause huge explosions–is looking for his sister, whom he’s convinced is at the Directorate, where Sienna lives. Then there’s a heavily armored meta who is after Sienna. Other stuff happens. 7/20
  39. ***Soulless (Robert J. Crane, 2014). The third “Girl in the Box” book. Sienna, Scott, and Kat are sent out on their first mission–to catch a meta who is stealing people’s memories. The organizations Alpha and Omega make a strong appearance. Sienna’s aunt Charlie also plays a big role. 7/24
  40. ****The Target (David Baldacci, 2014). Will Robie and Jessica Reel, highly trained assassins for the CIA, are back in this third Will Robie book. They are being groomed for a mission involving North Korea, a mission for which things take unexpected turns. There’s a North Korean woman assassin, a very interesting character. So it’s all about North Korea, with further intrigue involving CIA director Evan Turner, who in the previous book tried to have Robie and Reel killed. 7/30
  41. ****Rumble Tumble (Joe Lansdale, 1998). The fifth Hap & Leonard book finds them, along with Bret, Hap’s girlfriend, setting off to free Brett’s daughter, Tillie, from a life of prostitution. She chose to get into it, but is now forced to stay in that life. So they head to Oklahoma City, where Big Jim runs things. A criminal midget named Red plays a big part. Probably my favorite Hap & Leonard book. 7/31
  42. ****Captains Outrageous (Joe Lansdale, 2009). The sixth Hap & Leonard book, and one of the best. Hap stumbles into some money, and he and Leonard go on a cruise…but the ship leaves them behind in Mexico. Thus begins an adventure with a 70-year-old fisherman who’s great at machete fighting, his lovely daughter, some fishing tourists from the US, and a Mexican drug lord. I really really liked this book. 8/3
  43. ****A Martyr’s Grace (Marvin J. Newell, 2006). The stories of 21 missionaries martyred in foreign lands. All of them attended Moody Bible Institute at one time. It’s very humbling to read these stories. 8/8
  44. ****Mad River (John Sandford, 2012). Virgil Flowers, in this 6th installment, goes on the trail of some spree killers–a young man and his girlfriend, and a male friend. All are losers. A very good story, and the plot goes to some interesting places. 8/9
  45. ***Storm Front (John Sandford, 2013). Virgil Flowers gets involved with an ancient stone smuggled out of Israel by a Catholic priest from Minnesota. Various persons descend, wanting to get their hands on the valuable artifact–a Mossad agent, Turkish killer, a TV show host, and others. More humor, less killing than in other Flowers books. I kind of hope this isn’t a new direction Sandford is taking with the Flowers series. 8/22
  46. ****Personal (Lee Child, 2014). For the first time (I’m pretty sure), Jack Reacher leaves the country. He’s tracking an expert sniper, one of the world’s best–a guy he once arrested and sent to prison for 15 years. The guy took a shot at the Prime Minister of France, and seems to be targeting somebody at the G8 summit in England next. Reach is teamed up with a rookie FBI agent, a woman. 8/25
  47. ****Transfer of Power (Vince Flynn, 1999). The first Mitch Rapp book that Flynn wrote, though he later did two prequels. Terrorists have taken over the White House, though the president made it to his bunker. Rapp is inserted into the White House, and the fun begins. 8/27
  48. *****The Road (Carmac McCarthy, 2006). A father and son trek across a devastated, post-apocalyptic American midwest. A fascinating tale. 8/20
  49. ***Night of the Assassin (Russell Blake, 2014). The back-story of El Rey, a deadly Mexican assassin. Prequel to the series. 9/3
  50. *1000 Yards (Mark Dawson, 2014). A prequel novella to the John Milton series. Milton goes into North Korea to assassinate somebody. Pretty much a boring read. 9/6
  51. ****Gun Machine (Warren Ellis, 2014). A room in an apartment is filled with dozens of guns, arranged in a somewhat artistic way. Each gun was used in a murder. Detective John Tallow tries to discover who is behind the guns. 9/11
  52. **I’m Not Scared (Niccolo Ammanniti, 2004). While with some friends in the hills above their Italian city, a boy discovers, in an abandoned house, a boy chained in a hole. The boy is a bit crazy. He makes other visits to see the boy and bring him food and water. The story develops. 9/19
  53. ***Hit and Run (Doug Johnstone, 2012). Three friend outside Edinborough, Scotland, are high on drugs when their car slams into somebody on a remote road. They drag the body off the road. The body is discovered the next day, but not quite where they left it. Turns out the man was a well-known mobster. The driver is assigned to the story by his newspaper. He gets involved with the man’s widow. Lots of other thugs around. Intrigue with the other two persons in the car–the man’s brother and girlfriend. Interesting story. 9/21
  54. ****Backflash (Richard Stark, 1997). Parker puts together a crew to rob a gambling steamship. 10/3
  55. ****The Waystation (Clifford Simak, 1973). A Civil War vet is chosen to man a waystation for aliens traveling through the galaxy. They stop on earth for a bit in his house, which has been specially modified by aliens. He’s also immortal, and has now lived well over 100 years. But things are catching up with him. A fascinating book. 10/15
  56. ****The Insanity of God (Nick Ripken, 2013). A fabulous Christian book in two halves. The first half tells Ripken’s story of ministering in Somalia for six years, including during the Black Hawk Down episode. Utterly fascinating. But his experience there led to questions about persecution and God’s protection over us. In the second half of the book, he visits believers in Russia, Ukraine, China, and other countries to hear their stories of persecution. Again, utterly fascinating. Two superb books in one. 10/28
  57. ***Nightmare in Pink (John MacDonald, 1964). The second Travis McGee book. A war buddy asks him to look into the murder of his daughter’s fiance. 11/2
  58. ****The Third Option (Vince Flynn, 2000). The second Mitch Rapp book written. Rapp is sent to assassinate a German who is supplying arms to terrorists. Things go bad. There’s a shady senator with designs on embarrassing, and eventually replacing the president. 11/3
  59. ****Hope to Die (James Patterson, 2014). The second part of the story of Thierry Mulch, who has kidnapped Cross’s family. 11/8
  60. ***The Widow’s Strike (Brad Taylor, 2013). An Iranian general implements a plan to steal deadly Bird Flu serum and infect the world. Pike Logan and crew, especially Jennifer, are right on top of it. Set mostly in southeast Asia. 11/29
  61. ****Ten Days in a Mad House (Nellie Bly, 1840). Nellie Bly, a newspaper reporter, gets herself committed to a local insane asylum and writes about what she experiences over a ten-day period. Very compelling, and distressing. 11/29
  62. ***Bullet Rain (Robert Swawrtwood, 2014). Nova Bartkowski, former hitman for the US government, finds himself with a broke-down car in a Nevada desert town where something’s not right. Way too many ex-military men around, and something’s happening at an abandoned mine. Then there’s the brunette snooping around the town and getting in trouble. Interesting book. 12/11
  63. ****A Purple Place for Dying (John MacDonald, 1964). Travis McGee (#3) finds himself in Arizona with a disgruntled wife who has a case for him, but as they talk, a high-powered rifle guns her down. Thus begins a great adventure involving the woman’s husband, the boyfriend she intended to run away with, the sister of that boyfriend, and assorted others. The relationship between McGee and the sister, Isobel, is fascinating and very satisfying. She’s a wonderfully drawn character. I loved this book. 12/25
  64. ****The Redeemer (Jo Nesbo, 2005). A Croatian hired assassin, called The Redeemer, come to Oslo to kill a Salvation Army worker. Did he kill the right person? Lots of intrigue in the ranks of the Salvation Army. An excellent plot. 12/28
  65. ***The Shepherd (Frederick Forsyth, 1975). A novella set on Christmas Eve. A British jet pilot, while flying home on Christmas Eve, suffers a complete electrical failure over the North Sea. A sweet story. 12/29
  66. ***The Game of X (Robert Sheckley, 1965). A whimsical spy thriller. An unemployed American living in Paris is recruited to take part in a low-key event for the CIA. That leads to another more dangerous assignment which takes him to Venice. A fun read. 12/31

2013 Books Read

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Books I’ve Read in 2013

Here are the books I read during 2013. I rate them with 1-5 stars. The book must be truly phenomenal to get 5 stars.

  1. **Ripley Under Ground (Patricia Highsmith, 1970). The second of five books starring the sociopathic killer Tom Ripley. This one involves an art scam he’s involved with, and his efforts to shield himself. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/1
  2. ***The Fire Engine that Disappeared (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1969). The 5th book in the Martin Beck series, but the 8th one I’ve read. Fire sweep through a large house, killing several people, including a couple of criminals. What exactly happened there? That’s what Martin Beck (who actually plays a small role) and his fellow policemen unravel. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/5
  3. ***Cop Killer (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1975). A woman disappears, and is eventually found murdered. Gunvald Larsson, part of the Martin Beck team, plays what is probably the starring role in this 9th book in the series. Later in the book, a cop is killed and two others wounded in a shootout with two thieves. One thief gets away, and the manhunt brings a second storyline. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/11
  4. ***Hard Feelings (Jason Starr, 2002).  Richie Segal, a salesman in a tech company, has difficulties at work and at home with his wife. Then he encounters a man who once molested him, repeatedly. Things spin in and out of control. Richie tells the story first person, and the reader mainly just hangs on for the rollercoaster ride, wondering where it will all lead. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/18
  5. *Cogan’s Trade (George V. Higgins, 1974). Two guys rob a poker game, and Cogan gets called in to find out who did it. Much of the book is dialogue. I suppose it’s good dialogue, but I was bored. Higgins is supposed to be a master. I guess I just don’t particularly care for his style. This is one of the few books in the Vintage/Black Lizard imprint that have disappointed me. 1/27
  6. ***Born Bad (Andrews Vachss, 1994). A collection of short stories from the man who writes one of my favorite series, the Burke series of “urban noir.” I’m not a big fan of short stories, which is why this book, along with a later collection, has sat on my shelf for many years. But I decided to give it a try. Wow, Vachss is good! Many are very short–only 3-4 pages. Vachss’ trademark themes–his hostility toward child abuse and all kinds of sexual abuse, and his love for dogs (and use of them to wreak justice)–are on prominent display in these stories. If they’re not, the story probably involves a criminal or someone living on the edge of the criminal world. Excellent stuff. 1/29
  7. ***State of Siege (Eric Ambler, 1956). Steve Fraser, a British contractor in the fictional country of Sunda, a former Dutch colony next to Malaysia, is going home. But while in the city awaiting a flight, rebels move in and occupy the place–and they make their headquarters the home where he is staying. He’s with a Eurasian beauty named Rosalie, and wants to keep her safe. Interesting dynamics between rebel officers, including their charismatic leader. The government launches a counterattack, and things get sticky. Quite an interesting read. 2/2
  8. **Epitaph for a Spy (Eric Ambler, 1952). Josef Vadassy is arrested in France for taking photos of seaside fortifications. The police realize it must have been somebody else at the hotel where he is staying. So he’s sent back, and tries to figure out who among the hotel’s motley assortment of international guests–English, American, French, German, Swiss–is the spy. The book takes place almost entirely at the hotel. Not enough action for me. 2/10
  9. **A Sleeping Life (Ruth Rendell, 1978). A woman is stabbed to death on a footpath, and Inspector Wexford sets about learning what happened. The woman actually lives in London, and they can’t figure out the identity she uses there. That’s most of the mystery. An unexpected ending, but Rendell dropped the clues along the way. 2/14
  10. ***Night Squad (David Goodis, 1961). Goodis is superb. In this book, Corey Bradford, who had been kicked off the police force for corruption, is hanging around doing nothing–scorned by the police and by the people in the community where he grew up. A set of circumstances ingratiate him to a local mobster, who wants him to figure out who is trying to kill him. Then the Night Squad, a small group of ruthless policemen, recruit him. Various other characters, of course, figure into the plot, a few of them women (the mobster’s wife, Corey’s ex-wife, a bouncer named Nellie). The plot covers just a couple of days’ time. Very interesting stuff–well-drawn characters, and a setting brought to life. 2/16
  11. ***The Last Six Million Seconds (John Burdett, 1997). England will soon–in 6 million seconds–transfer control of Hong Kong to China. But a grisly triple murder has occurred, and Inspector Charlie Chan plunges in. The plot involves a Chinese military mobster named General Xian, duplicitous English officials, interesting local characters, some travelers from New York…in general, too many people for me to adequately keep track of. The writing is very evocative, capturing the essence of Hong Kong and of Chinese culture. A complicated book. 2/26
  12. **Terminal (Andrew Vachss, 2007). In this 17th Burke book, Burke and his band of urban criminals work on extorting money from three men who, 30 years before, raped and murdered a young woman. As usual, Vachss retells Burke’s life, tells some Wesley stories, and takes plenty of side roads. Not one of his better books, but I’m hooked, so I read them all anyways. 3/8
  13. ****World War Z (Max Brooks, 2006). If you’ve ever read a Studs Terkel oral history (I’ve read several), you’ll be right at home with this oral history of a future worldwide zombie war. The interviewer, several years after the war ends, flits around the world talking to persons about their experiences during the zombie war–China, Israel, Ireland, South Africa, Russia, the US, France, and even the international space station. It begins in China, where the outbreak began, and we learn how it spread to the rest of the world. It’s all quite fascinating (to me). The author pulled this off real well. It reminded me, too, of the book “War Day,” by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, which I read back in 1984. “War Day” follows the authors around the country five years after a nuclear war, describing how the country had changed. 3/16
  14. ***God, No! (Penn Jilette, 2011). Comedian/magician Penn Jillette is an atheist, a thoughtful one, and this is billed as a book about religion. I decided to give it a try. It’s basically a collection of essays which meander far and wide, yet always in an entertaining way. He’s profane, casting a multitude of f-bombs, and he’s sexually immoral (though an atheist wouldn’t see it that way), with an obsession about his genitals. Yet his experiences and observations, especially about the show biz field, are quite fascinating, and he gives the best explanation of libertarianism I’ve heard. I appreciated his fundamental belief that people are good and will do the right thing. I’ll read other books by him, probably.3/22
  15. ***Prodigy (Marie Lu, 2013). The second “Legend” novel finds June and Day fleeing the dystopian Republic and getting involved with the Patriot resistance group. As with “Legend” June (the title character of “Prodigy”) and Day (a populist hero on the run who is the title character of “Legend”) alternate chapters, telling their story first person (and in alternating serif and sans-serif type). June becomes the central character in a plot to kill the Elector, the head of the Republic, and things get complicated. This book is not as good as “Legend,” but the second book in trilogies is usually a let-down. This is no let-down. I greatly enjoyed it. But I wish I could have read the two books back-to-back, rather than a year apart. 3/23
  16. *Reached (Ally Condie, 2013). I totally loved “Matched,” the first book in the Matched Trilogy. Ally Condie created a fascinating, very original dystopian society, and made me care about her three central figures. Great character development. The second book, “Crossed,” took us away from the Society, basically letting her characters wander in the wilderness with not much happening. I didn’t like it, but hoped the third installment,  “Reached,” would redeem the trilogy. It didn’t. Not at all. Instead, she blew up the Society, without much explanation. Most of the book was bogged down in finding a cure for a plague. I couldn’t want for this book to end. Truly a deep disappointment. 3/30
  17. *Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Ryan and Josh Shook, 2013). Two brothers, preachers’ kids, wrote this book together. It features an all-star cast of tributes from prominent megachurch pastors. But it fell flat for me. The idea is to develop your own unique relationship with Christ, rather than a mere hand-me-down faith you get from your parents. As a preacher’s kid whose career has been spent in Christian ministry, I understand what they’re saying. But basically, they had an article’s worth of good stuff about firsthand faith, and lamely stretched it into a full-length book with hardly anything new. I was bored and disappointed, but kept hoping the next chapter would give me something valuable. It’s probably good for teens or 20-somethings, not so much for this 56-year-old who never felt like I was getting a hand-me-down faith. 3/31
  18. ***Dustlands: Blood Red Road (Moira Young, 2011). The first book in the Dustlands series, a post-apocalyptic series which calls to mind the Road Warrior movies. Saba, a teenage girl, watches mysterious men kidnap her brother and kill her father. She sets off to rescue her brother, accompanied by her pesky little sister, Emmi. Remnants of an old civilization, known as the Wreckers, are all around–buildings, cars, tires, etc. But everything is primitive–no guns, no machines, no electricity. Saba’s adventures in this world, in which she develops into quite a warrior, held my attention. Saba tells her story first-person, with an odd rhythm and words often spelled phonetically; but I got into the flow easily. I really liked the book, but reviews of the second book aren’t good. I’m afraid this is a typical juvenile fiction trilogy, where the first book is very good, and the following books let-downs. 4/9
  19. ****Deathworld (Harry Harrison, 1960). I devoured science fiction as a teen, and Harry Harrison was one of my favorite writers. Deathworld was probably the first book I ever read twice, both while still a teen. Now, 40 years later, I’ve read it three times. The protagonist, a professional gambler named Jason, ends up on a planet where absolutely everything–plant, animal, insect, even blades of grass–is at war with the colonists who came a couple hundred years before. A perpetual war between the colonists, huddled in their protected city, and the planet itself. But there are also people–descendants of colonists themselves–who live outside the city and seemingly at peace with the planet, but at war with their fellow humans in the city. Jason tries to figure out what’s happening. 4/15
  20. ****A Short History of the World (Christopher Richard Lascelles, 2012). It starts with the Big Bang and goes right up to the present–all in just 165 pages. I loved it. Wished I had read it many years ago to get a fundamental overview of the tides of history. Mostly, you watch civilizations and empires rise and fall. 4/29
  21. ****Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, 1985). Ender Wiggins, as a young boy, is take from his family and begins training with the planetary defense force. He is viewed as a future genius military commander, someone they’ll need in the next showdown with the Buggers, an alien race that has twice attacked Earth. It’s quite a fascinating book as we see how Ender is groomed, without his knowledge. 5/2
  22. ****The Legacies (Pittacus Lore, 2013). Three novellas (60-90 pages) from the “I Am Number Four” series. The main books come out once a year, and I anxiously await. It was nice having these stories to tide me over. One dealt with the early years of Six (who showed up in the first book). The second gave the background of Nine, and was quite interesting. Both books intersected with the main series. The third story came from the viewpoint of a Mogadorian general’s son, who gets inside the mind of One (the first of the Loric children to be killed), and it changes how he views things. Very nice twist on the story. All three were excellent additions to the series. Three more novellas are coming out this summer. I’ll snap them up, most definitely. 5/7
  23. ****Packing for Mars (Mary Roach, 2010). Roach mostly explores–with much humor–all the ramifications of the human body going into space. Weightlessness affects everything from vertigo to digestion to burping. I found the book utterly fascinating, with numerous anecdotes you’ve never heard before involving real astronauts going back to the early days of NASA. I loved the book, and will definitely read more by Mary Roach, because she’s such an entertaining writer. 5/12
  24. **Survival: Prepare Before Disaster Strikes (Barbara Fix, 2011). Practical advice for how to prepare, in advance, for when the power goes out for an extended period of time–if not for good–and society as we know it breaks down. We’re talking post-apocalyptic. Fix covers all of the subjects, most of them ultimately involving shelter and food. 5/14
  25. ***The Rare Coin Score (Richard Stark, 1967). Parker is back, this time with a caper to rob a convention of rare coin dealers. There are women, there are double-crossers. A good read. 5/16
  26. ****The Postcard Killers (James Patterson/Liz Marklund, 2010). Couples are being killed throughout Europe, their bodies arranged in strange ways, and postcards sent to journalists telling about the killings. A New York cop, whose daughter was one of the victims, has been pursuing them. When the killers send a postcard to a woman journalist to announce their arrival in Stockhold, Sweden, the cop hurries there. Cat and mouse stuff. An interesting twist. I really enjoyed this book. 5/18
  27. ****Don’t Blink (James Patterson/Howard Roughan, 2012). A mob lawyer and two cops are killed in a fancy New York restaurant, and a journalist sitting at the next table captures the whole thing on a recording. He gets pulled in, and becomes a target. There’s an ex girlfriend and a current (but taken) flame involved. Interesting plot that moved along, and had one of those endings that just keeps going. 5/19
  28. ****Private: #1 Suspect (Richard Patterson/Maxine Paetro, 2013). The second Private book set in the US (there are London and Berlin series about the worldwide Private security agency). Private’s founder and leader, Jack Morgan, is framed for the murder of a former girlfriend. Sounds like the doings of his evil twin brother, Tommy. Then there are two other Private cases–the highjacking of a mafia van filled with drugs, and a woman who owns a bunch of hotels where a string of murders have been occurring. All three plots are pursued at once. I’ve loved all three Private books I’ve read so far. 5/25
  29. ***All Necessary Force (Brad Taylor, 2012). Pike Logan is back for a second round with the TaskForce, a super-secret government agency. Now he’s joined by Jennifer, who was in the first book, One Rough Man, and is now a member of the TaskForce. A major terrorist plot against the US is taking shape, and the TaskForce gets involved to unravel it. The action begins in Egypt, then moves to Eastern Europe. Plenty of violence. Reads a lot like a Vince Flynn book. Taylor is here to stay. 6/7
  30. **Another Life (Andrew Vachss, 2008). After 18 books, Vachss brings to a close his series of urban noir about the man called Burke. This is a very unique series, with nearly every book dealing in some way with the abuse of women and children. The plot here involves finding a baby abducted from an Arab billionaire (who is also quite a pervert). Vachss tried to reference many things from previous books, but it felt clunky. Henning Mankell masterfully closed out his Inspector Wallander series (12 books) by bringing into the story nearly every major character from the series. But for Vachss, it just didn’t work. Nevertheless, I loved the series and will miss Burke and his most fascinating “family”–Max the Silent, the Mole, the Professor, Michelle, Terry, Clarence, the Gateman, Wesley, and Mama. 6/12
  31. ***Dirty Work (Stuart Woods, 2003). Stone Barrington gets caught up in the hunt for a woman assassin, one of whose targets is the woman (a British spy, basically) who Stone is currently involved with. It gets murky about which one is the good person and which one is the bad. I really enjoyed this plot. 6/21
  32. ****Assassination Vacation (Sarah Vowel, 2006). I loved this book. Vowel focuses on three presidential assassinations–Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She visit places with some relevance to the assassination and the main characters involved in those killings. About half of the book dealt with the Lincoln assassination, and I learned gobs of new stuff about it. In the process, the author throws in all kinds of tidbits, both personal and historical. This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had learning history. I’ll be certain to read some of Vowel’s other books. 6/23
  33. ****Orchid Beach (Stuart Woods, 2003). This is the first book in Woods’ series about Holly Barker, police chief of the small town of Orchid Beach, Fla. She had just left the military when this gig came along. Her dad, Ham, a career military guy, plays a good role in the book. The plot involves not only the circumstances that brought her to Orchid Beach, but the killing of the police chief who hired her, and the killing of another man. And there’s this mysterious, huge, and security-obsessed community called Palmetto Gardens which draws her attention. I liked Holly Barker a lot, and I’ll be reading the other books in this series. 6/29
  34. ****The Green Eagle Score (Richard Stark, 1967). In the 10th Parker book, our criminal hero gets involved with stealing the payroll on a military base. As always, there are complications with persons involved. No Parker heist ever goes according to plan. 7/2
  35. ****The Black Ice Score (Richard Stark, 1965). In the 11th Parker book (though the copyright is two years earlier than the previous book), Parker is drafted by some Africans from a fictitious country to help them steal nearly a million dollars worth of diamonds from a countryman. A threesome of whites from the same country want to prevent the theft from occurring, and another guy wants a cut of the action but Parker doesn’t want him around. Girlfriend Claire is involved, too. An interesting plot. 7/4
  36. ****In the Lake of the Woods (Tim O’Brien, 1994). When John Wade loses an election, he and his wife retreat to a remote lake cottage, where she soon disappears. This is an inventive book with a unique ending, and very literary. Wade was involved in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and that figures strongly into the plot. O’Brien is a superb writer. 7/6
  37. *****The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman, 2013). The best book I’ve read this year, so far. The book is set in Australia, mostly on Janus Rock, a remote island with a lighthouse–a captivating context. We learn all about lighthouses and how they work. The lighthouse keeper, Tom, is a former soldier in the Great War, a war hero. He meets a woman, Izzy, they marry, and they move to Janus Rock. Then one day a rowboat washes ashore carrying a baby girl. They decide to raise the child as their own…and things get complicated. Beautifully written. 7/9
  38. ****61 Hours (Lee Child, 2012). A different Jack Reacher book, this one set in South Dakota amid a frigid winter storm. The temperature throughout the book is 20+ below zero. So it’s an interesting environment. It’s a small town with a prison, and a mysterious former military base outside of town that has been taken over by a meth-making motorcycle gang. A retired librarian witnessed a drug transaction, and now somebody’s coming to kill the witness. Reacher inflicts a lot less mayhem than in most books.  Some interesting characters. I enjoyed it a lot. 7/11
  39. ****Kill Alex Cross (James Patterson, 2012). The President’s two children have been kidnapped. Then some Saudi terrorists are targeting Administration officials. Two very interesting threads here, and Cross gets mixed up in both of them. 7/13
  40. ****Shock Wave (James Sanford, 2012). A bomber is targeting PyeMart, a big-box chain store (like Wal-Mart) which is coming to the little town of Butternut Falls, Minn. Somebody doesn’t want it there. Bombs have killed two persons. Virgil Flowers gets called in to investigate. I like Virgil Flowers much better than I like Lucas Davenport, the hero of the “Prey” books by Sanford. A lot more humor in the Flowers books. This is a good book which keeps you guessing. 7/18

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  1. ****Headhunters (Jo Nesbo, 2008). Set in Oslo, Norway. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, but does art theft on the side. He meets Clas Greve, the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, who also owns a priceless Rubens painting. He breaks into Greve’s apartment to steal the painting…but Greve is not a person to mess with. This is a very well-constructed book. There are a bunch of minor plot points, and every one is tied up nicely by the end of the book. I really enjoyed this book. 7/22
  2. ****Black Site (Dalton Fury, 2012). A first novel by a former top Delta soldier. His hero, Kolt Raynor, is a disgraced Delta operative who gets pulled back into the game through a private contractor. He ends up in Afghanistan looking for five fellow soldiers who have been help captive for three years. The plot then goes well beyond that. Raynor is a very well thought out character, who will show up in additional books. I liked the book a lot. And we get loads of interesting details which probably only a former Delta operative would know. 7/24
  3. **The Intercept (Dick Wolf, 2013). A terrorist is thwarted while trying to hijack a jetliner heading for New York. Jeremy Fisk, part of the city’s anti-terror unit, suspects it was only part of a much larger plot…and of course, he’s right. Kept me interested enough to keep reading, but ultimately wasn’t satisfying. 7/26
  4. **The Phantom Patrol (L. Ron Hubbard, 1936). A mindless romp on the high seas, featuring the captain of a Coast Guard ship vs. a pirate. Reprinted from Argosy, a long-lost genre of magazine. 7/27
  5. ****Who Is This Man? (John Ortberg, 2013). I loved this book. Ortberg looks at the influence of Jesus throughout history, pointing out many things I’d never thought of. This book will help you know and understand Jesus better. 7/31
  6. ****A Quiet Flame (Philip Kerr, 2008). The fourth Bernie Gunther novel found our Germany detective fleeing with Adolph Eichmann to Argentina. This fifth installment finds him getting drafted by the national police to find an abducted girl…though it gets a whole lot more complicated than that. As always, Gunther (like Forest Gump) finds himself rubbing shoulders with famous historical people–in this case, Juan and Evita Peron, Joseph Mengele, and assorted Nazis who fled to Argentina after the war. A good chunk of the book involves flashbacks to 1932 Germany, where Gunther pursues a case very similar to one in Argentina. 8/1
  7. ****Hell & Gone (Duane Swierczynski, 2011). This is the second book of the Charlie Hardie trilogy. Like most Swierczynski books, it’s very offbeat. Here, Hardie finds himself in a small, impregnable, and very sadistic prison buried deep in the earth. It’s all connected to The Accident People, a group of people who secretly pull the strings in society and the world in general. An interesting assortment of persons are with him in this prison–five prisoners, and four guards. 8/3
  8. *Noir (Robert Coover, 2010). An artsy, but ultimately confusing and difficult, take on the pulp detective novel. Philip Noir is a private detective, and takes on case for a mysterious widow. It winds around, and lots of characters enter the story. Coover tells the story with plenty of conversation, but no quotation marks; the quotes are mixed in with other material, and you can usually tell the difference, but it sure doesn’t help with communication or clarity. It’s a short book, 200 pages, so despite some struggles, I kept at it. But it turned out to be very unsatisfying. 8/4
  9. ****The Deep Blue Good-By (John D. MacDonald, 1964). This is the first Travis McGee book; Random House just began republishing the whole series. I’d read one other book by MacDonald, and was not overly impressed, but decided to try the first McGee book. Wow! This guy can write! He signs on to help a young woman recover some gems which her Dad illegally brought back after the Pacific War, and which another guy stole. I was quite engrossed, and know that I’ll be devouring more MacDonald books. 8/6
  10. ****A Wanted Man (Lee Child, 2012). Jack Reacher hitches a ride with two men, who have just killed a man, and the woman they abducted. The police, FBI, and CIA get involved in the hunt. And who exactly was that guy they killed? This is a seat-of-your-pants thriller, the kind you just can’t put down. 8/9
  11. ****Orchid Blues (Stuart Woods, 2002). Police chief Holly Barker is set to be married. But an hour beforehand, her fiance is killed in a bank robbery. The investigation leads to a shadowy militant group occupying a large piece of land nearby. Holly’s father, Ham, goes undercover to infiltrate the group. Holly Barker is almost incidental to the plot, since it revolves around Ham. It’s a great plot with a very satisfying ending. 8/10
  12. ****Blood Orchid (Stuart Woods, 2003). The Palmetto Gardens land, from the first book in the series (this is the 3rd), is sold to a guy named Ed Shine after two other potential bidders were assassinated. Then Holly Barker finds her home bugged. What’s that about? An FBI agent comes to town to work undercover, and though he won’t tell her what he’s working on, he and Holly become quite intimate. There are Cuban assassins involved and ex mafioso. Very interesting stuff. 8/11
  13. **Reckless Abandon (Stuart Woods, 2004). Holly Baker comes to New York City in pursuit of a fugitive–now shielded by the FBI–from the “Blood Orchid” book. She hooks up with Stone Barrington, and they spend a lot of time in the sack. This is a very slutty Holly Baker, unlike the other three books I read about her. The book wanders all over the landscape, and I had a hard time trying to figure out where it was going. Not one of his best. 8/14
  14. ***Quarry’s List (Max Allan Collins, 1976). Our hero hitman, Quarry, wakes up in the night to find a killer in his house. Two of them, actually. He dispatches them, and then sets out to learn who was trying to have him killed, and why. A former “business associate,” a high-flying lawyer, a beautiful woman (of course!), and sundry shady characters with guns are involved. 8/17
  15. ****Quarry’s Deal (Max Allan Collins, 1976). Quarry follows a hitwoman from Florida to Iowa, and figures out who she intends to kill–and then makes a deal with that guy, promising to save his life in return for money. Most of the time, Quarry is shacking up with the hitwoman. Some other folks get involved, obviously. This was a very interesting plot. 8/29
  16. ****Point & Shoot (Duane Swierczynski, 2013). This is the final installment of a trilogy which began with Fun & Games and continued with Hell & Gone. Now, after some madcap adventures, our unkillable hero, Charlie Hardie, finds himself in a very small spacecraft, 9 months into a one-year agreement to protect something (he doesn’t know what) on that craft. Then another craft docks, and things start going crazy. The Cabal, or “The Accident People,” have been watching Charlie’s wife and son back in Philadelphia, and now a race begins to rescue them from certain execution. This is a wonderful trilogy. Swierczynski has become one of my favorite authors, creating some nightmarish and claustrophobic situations (the coma car, a secret prison, the spaceship) and forcing his protagonist to somehow find a way through. 8/24
  17. ***Obedience (Will Lavender, 2009). This plot really kept my attention. On the first day of a college class, the somewhat mysterious prof tells the students that a girl, Polly, has been kidnapped. If they don’t find her by the end of the class term (six weeks), the girl will be killed. The book focuses on three students who delve into the case. How much is purely an academic exercise, and how much is real life? It’s murky, especially when it begins bleeding into their personal lives. I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, but until then, I was hooked. 8/29
  18. ****Web of Murder (Harry Whittington, 1958). Whittington was a very prolific writer of detective fiction, and he wrote quality stuff. I’ve read several of his books. This one is the frequently-used plot of a man and his lover scheming to kill the man’s wife, so they can collect her fortune and live happily ever after. This one takes some interesting turns. 8/31
  19. *****The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges, 1978). My third time reading this book. Not many contemporary books, regardless of how many copies they sell initially, will end up being timeless classics. But this will be one. It’s a nitty gritty biblical examination of how a person can live in obedience to God. 8/31
  20. ****Lost Files: Secret Histories (Pittacus Lore, 2013). Each year a new book in the Lorien Legacies is published. It started with “I Am Number Four,” and in August 2013 “The Fall of Five” arrived. But this year, they began publishing novellas–around 80 pages–which fill in some gaps and give additional back story. Three novellas came out in the spring of 2013. Then, this summer, another three arrived. Put together, they comprise the book “Secret Histories.” Two of them follow a young Mogadorian who betrays his own people and begins working for the Loric (the good guys). The other focused on Sandor, one of the persons from the other books who was already dead, and the last days of Lorien before the Mogadorian invasion. All of the novellas have been good, providing information of interest to me. 9/4
  21. ***The Fall of Five (Pittacus Lore, 2013). I have mixed feelings about this fourth book in the Lorien Legacies series. Not much happened. Mostly, the Garde were couped up in Nine’s Chicago hideout. But on the other hand, we learned much more about the individual persons. The new persons thrown into the mix is Five, who doesn’t appear until this book. Things get a bit dark here. 9/6
  22. ****Divergent (Veronica Roth, 2011). The first book in a heralded trilogy in the juvenile fiction/dystopian genre. In this world, all 16-year-olds must select one of five factions in which to spend the rest of their lives. Each one has an emphasis: honesty, selflessness, bravery, intelligence, peacefulness. Our heroine, Beatrice, is from the “selfless” faction, called Abnegation, but now chooses the “bravery” faction, Dauntless. Most of the book involves the three-part initiation process into Dauntless. But a larger insidious plot is afoot. Also: Beatrice is “divergent,” which means that in testing, she didn’t come out with a strong affinity for any particular faction. The divergent are considered dangerous and must be eliminated. I really liked this book, and have started the second book, “Insurgent.” I’ve been disappointed by several other dystopian trilogies, which start with a great first book and then go down the toilet. Hoping that’s not the case here. 9/8
  23. ***Insurgent (Veronia Roth, 2012). The second book in the “Divergent” trilogy. Not as good as the first one. Too much angst by the main characters; it got a bit old. But still, not a let-down as so many second books are. The “good” Dauntless, with Tobias and Tris, face off against the evil Jeanine of the Erudite. A lot of drama, not as much action as “Divergent,” yet the total story moves along. I’m anxious to read the final books, “Allegiant,” which comes out in October. 9/13
  24. **Infinity: The Chronicles of Nick (Sherrilyn Kenyon, 2010). Nick is a picked-on high schooler who, he discovers (so everyone is telling him in this book) has some special super powers of some kind. Zombies and various classes of demons and other other-worldly creatures populate this first novel in the series. I gave it a try, because I enjoy a lot of juvenile fiction, but this one was a bit too juvenile. If I were in early high school, I’m sure I would have really enjoyed it. As it was, for a 56-year-old, I think I’ll skip the rest of the series. 9/20
  25. **The Orchid Shroud (Michelle Wan, 2006). At a French estate, a dead baby–dead for decades–is found hidden in a wall. The whodunit looks at previous residents of the estate–a bunch of schemers at each other’s throat–to figure out what happened and who did what. It’s a very literate, elegantly written book, but moved much too slowly for my tastes. 9/28
  26. ****Ex-Heroes (Peter Clines, 2010). It’s Los Angeles after a zombie apocalypse. A small group of superheroes–persons with unnatural powers–have built a fortress for thousands of people in the format MGM studios compound. In addition to battling the millions of zombies, they must contend with a group of humans who want to undo what they’ve built. It becomes superheroes vs. (bad) superheroes. I loved this book. A very pleasant surprise. 10/1
  27. ****Ex-Patriots (Peter Clines, 2011). A bunch of enhanced soldiers show up at the Mount. Some of the superheroes go with them to their base in Yuma, Ariz. There’s something not quite right with them, of course, something villainous. Lots of intrigue, plenty of action. A good sequel to Ex-Heroes. I’m really liking this series. 10/6
  28. *****Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Reza Aslan, 2013). Aslan, a religious historian who also happens to be Muslim, takes a very close–and totally fascinating–look at what history tells us about Jesus, and about the many people around him–the Herods, Pilate, Paul, James, and more. Aslan does not believe Jesus is God. BUT, he is not out to evangelize any viewpoints. In fact, Aslan has a great respect for Christians, for Christianity, and for Jesus. He begins by telling his story of being a former evangelical who later converted to Islam. He is just saying, “Here’s what history says. Beyond that, you’re going by faith.” But history tells an awful lot. I gained tremendous insights into Jesus, and will never again read the New Testament quite the same. I totally loved this book. 10/8
  29. ****The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashino, 2012). A woman’s ex-husband comes for an unwelcome visit, things go bad, and the woman and her daughter end up killing him. A somewhat mysterious neighbor, a math teacher, arranges an intricate cover-up. All they have to do is stick to the story he concocts. The point of view shifts between characters, including a policeman and a physics professor. It’s a well-woven story. 10/30
  30. ***The Carny Kill (Robert Edmon Alter, 1993). A fine piece of pulp noir, set in a Florida amusement park. The park owner is found murdered. Who did it? The story unfolds through the eyes of Thaxton, a carny whose ex-wife is now married to the victim. It’s a fun read within a very unusual world. 11/9
  31. *****The Power of the Dog (Don Winslow, 2006). A very, very long book from one of my favorite authors. It’s epic, spanning 25 years (from 1979) of the drug war in Mexico, Central America, and Columbia. Art Keller, a DEA agent, is the central figure. But we also move into the lives of a Mexican drug lord and his son, a Mafia hitman, a high-priced call girl, an incorruptible Mexican priest, an honest but brutal Mexican cop, and sundry other characters–all of them fleshed out so they become very real to you. The book mixes the real history of the drug trade with fiction. It’s maddening when you see how CIA interests propped up and defended drug lords over the years. I loved this book. 11/14
  32. **Sentinel (Matthew Dunne, 2012). The second Spycatcher thriller finds Will Cochrane in Russia trying to thwart a plot by a Spetnaz agent to start World War 3. Cochrane teams up with a legendary MI6 spy, code-named Sentinel. Didn’t keep my attention like the first book. 11/19
  33. ****’Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy (Leslie Langtry, 2013). Ginny Bombay is a member of the Bombay family, professional assassins for a few thousand years. She’s also a single mom with a five-year-old daughter, whose time has come to be trained in the family career. A special meeting of all family members from around the world has been called–what’s that about? It’s quite interesting, and the whole Bombay story, with its deadly rules, is spelled out in the first chapter. Ginny Bombaby narrates the story, with constant wisecracks. It’s very, very funny. I’m hooked. 11/21
  34. ****Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins, 2010). The second Hunger Games book. After Katniss and Peeta win the Hunger Games, they go on a victory tour to the various impoverished districts, whose champions they killed. Then it’s back to their own District 12. But the Capitol is upset with Katniss, especially as revolts occur in other districts and Katniss was the spark for it. A special version of the Hunger Games is announced, and Katniss and Peeta find themselves once against back in the area. 11/26
  35. ****Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins, 2011). The conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy. Didn’t end the way I expected, but it’s a good ending. 11/28
  36. ***Allegiant (Veronica Roth, 2013). The final installment of the Divergent series. Tris and Tobias, who alternate chapters, find themselves outside of the Divergent community where they’ve always lived, and which defined their entire world. We learn how their dystopian world came to be. There is a bit much handwringing, and not all that much happens, but it’s a decent ending to the series. 12/1
  37. ****Champion (Marie Lu, 2013). The final installment of the Legend series. The Colonies (easter US) are threatening war on the Republic (western US). June is now the right-hand person to the Elector, who leads the Republic. Day remains a populist hero. The story is told in alternating chapters by June and Day. The book lagged in parts, but had a great ending. 12/14
  38. ***Build the Perfect Bug-Out Bag (Creek Stewart, 2012). A disaster-preparedness book. If some kind of disaster strikes and society falls apart,  and you must flee your home, here’s the bag that contains everything you’ll need for at least the first 72 hours. Chapters on water and food, clothing shelter, fire, first aid, hygiene, tools, lighting, communications, self-defense, and other areas. 12/14
  39. ****Private London (James Patterson, 2013). Dan Carter, head of Private’s London office, is tasked with protecting an American college student. Now, several years later, she’s been kidnapped. It’s all hands on deck to find her. Meanwhile, Carter’s ex-wife, a London cop, is trying to find a serial murder whose motives seem to be wrapped up with the illicit organ trade. 12/20
  40. ***Cat Chaser (Elmore Leonard, 1982). George Moran owns a small hotel on the Florida coast. 16 years before, he was a US Marine during the invasion of the Dominican Republic, during which he was captured while pursuing a Dominican rebel girl. He goes to the Dominican Republic hoping to locate her, and instead meets a woman he’s been in love with from afar–the wife of a ruthless former general in the DR. Things get complicated, and stuff happens. A fun read. 12/21
  41. ***The Consummata (Mickey Spilane, 2011). Morgan, a thief pursued by the government, finds refuge in Miami’s Cuban community…and then gets dragged into searching for someone who ripped off a community of Cuban immigrants. It’s an interesting plot. Part of the Hardcase Crime imprint. 12/23
  42. ***The Dead Rise Not (Philip Kerr, 2011). This is kind of a different book. The first two-thirds occur in 1934, as the Nazis are cementing their grip in Germany. Bernie Gunther is working security for Berlin’s biggest hotel. The plot includes an American gangster and an American Jewess doing an article on Germany’s treatment of Jews, plus the spectre of the 1936 Olympics. The last third finds us in Cuba in 1954. Gunther had earlier fled Germany for Argentina, and (in the last book) had to leave Argentina. He’s kicking back in Havana, doing not much, when ghosts from 1934 appear and he gets dragged into things. 12/26
  43. **Clear Winter Nights (Trevin Wax, 2013). A young Christian experiences a crisis of faith, wondering if Christianity is for real. He’s about to become involved in a church plant and marry a wonderful Christian woman. But he must deal with his doubts, which are substantial. He goes to spend a weekend with his grandfather, a retired pastor. Most of the book involves their conversations. Wax doesn’t try to wrap everything up nicely, and I appreciated that. It was interesting, but I didn’t come away with any enlightenment, with any new thoughts about the Christian life. 12/26
  44. ***When the Grid Goes Down (Tony Nester, 2012). A short book with tips on how to prepare for a disaster of some kind. How to survive where you are, rather than escape to the wilderness. 12/28
  45. ***Blood Oath (Christopher Farnsworth, 2010). Nathaniel Cade is the “president’s vampire.” Zach has just been named liaison between the President and Cade, and he’s in for a wild ride. Cade has served US presidents since the late 1800s, dealing with all manner of evil–werewolves, aliens, etc. Now jihadists are plotting to unleash killer frankensteins, assembled from the parts of US servicemen killed in Afghanistan, on the US. Zach and Cade must stop it. There are now three books in this series; this is the first. 12/31

Books: “Bad Blood” (Sanford) and “Cross Fire” (Patterson)

Catching up on some more books I read late in the year.

Bad Blood, by John Sanford (2010).
As I’ve written before, I much prefer Sanford’s Virgil Flowers series to his signature Lucas Davenport “Prey” books. Flowers is a much more interesting character than Davenport (who is actually Flowers’ boss). This fourth entry begins with a 19-year-old football star bludgeoning a coworker, and then he’s found hanging in his cell. A deputy is suspected of killing the boy, but that deputy is then murdered. As Flowers and the lady sheriff investigate, clues point to a girl murdered a year before, and to a secretive religious community where lots of bad things seem to happen. The book ends with a doozy of a shoot-out, and a startling act of vengeance. Yes, I think this is the best Flowers book.

Cross Fire, by James Patterson (2010)
I read Cross Fire in one day, on the plane back from California in early November. Patterson’s style–the short chapters, the color-sparse writing, the unrelenting pace–is well-suited for travel reading. This book brings back serial killer Kyle Craig, who, after extensive plastic surgery, assumes the identity of an FBI agent and ends up working with a clueless Alex Cross to solve a series of sniper killings (the victims being corrupt politicians). Realistically, it’s a bit of a leap, but I willingly suspended my skepticism and enjoyed the ride. The ending seemed a bit weak, yet satisfying. The Alex Cross books rarely disappoint (Cross Country being an exception), and this one certainly didn’t. Not one of his best, but an average Alex Cross book is still a lot better than most other books in this genre.

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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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Book: “The Renegades,” by T. Jefferson Parker

“The Renegades,” published in 2009, is the second Charlie Hood novel from T. Jefferson Parker. The first was “LA Outlaws,” published in 2008 (and which I briefly reviewed in October 2009). That was the better book, thanks to the superbly drawn character of LA outlaw Allison Murrieta, a sympathetic bank robber with Robin-Hoodish leanings, who becomes a folk hero of sorts, as well as a Hood love interest.

Allison Murrieta plays a part in “The Renegades,” and in fact permeates the book. But I’m not going to say anything more about her. You need to read “LA Outlaws” first.

Hood is an LA deputy sheriff. “The Renegades” begins with Hood’s new partner, Terry Laws, getting machine-gunned on the street, with Hood watching (and spared, for some reason). Hood is enlisted to find the killer. Along the way, he encounters Laws’ previous partner, Draper.

Meanwhile, a second strand begins. Draper begins telling someone his story–about how he and Laws murdered two drug money-runners, set up another guy for the hit, and then arranged with the deadly cartel leader to take over the money-running route. And pocket about $7000 each, every week.

The reader hears all of this from Draper. Meanwhile, we watch Hood trying to figure things out, while we already know, pretty much, what happened. Parker keeps injecting chapters with Draper spilling more of his story, and then we return to Hood for a few chapters.

It’s quite an interesting structure. We get information from Draper at just the right time, no more than we need. Parker dribbles it out just right. Obviously, everything points to a showdown between Hood and Draper. But even then, surprises await.

Parker actually did something similar with “LA Outlaws.” Allison Murrietta’s parts are written in first-person (like the Draper chapters), while everything else is in third person.

I didn’t learn a great deal about Charlie Hood in this book. He’s still kind of ordinary to me, nothing distinguishing him particularly from protagonists of similar books. I prefer more distinct characters like Stone Barrington, Virgil Flowers, Alex Cross, or any Robert Parker hero. But T. Jefferson Parker’s superb plotting will keep me coming back, though not rushing back.

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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: “Rough Country,” by John Sandford

“Rough Country” (2009) is the third book starring Virgil Flowers, a series John Sandford started in 2008. Sandford is best known for the Lucas Davenport “Prey” series (each title includes the word “prey”). He started that series in 1989, and has now pumped out 21 “Prey” books. But the Virgil Flowers books are better. Or, at least, Flowers is a much more interesting character than Davenport (for whom Flowers works, out of Minneapolis).

I read the first two Virgil Flowers books back-to-back in January 2010, and followed them with two of the Prey books. I reviewed all four together. Plenty of the Flowers free-spirit personality comes out in “Rough Country,” all wrapped in a package which includes shoulder-length blonde hair, a T-shirt from a rock groups, a blazer, and cowboy boots. Before going to sleep, Flowers usually thinks about God.

“Rough Country” finds him fishing in a remote area outside of the Twin Cities. At a lake resort called the Eagle’s Nest, a place which attracts lesbians who want to get away, a businesswoman is murdered while canoeing. Virgil, being nearby, is asked to investigate. The plot includes a promising singer named Wendy and her all-girl band, her father, a very strange brother called the Deuce, some interested local policemen, the hotel’s owner and its prospective buyer, and a continually frustrated love entanglement.

I don’t like books where key clues aren’t divulged until the end, when the protagonist unspins how the murder happened to astonished listeners (one of whom is usually the bad guy). Some of the older writers, like Chandler and Hammett, tended to do that, and you see it a lot in movies. I don’t think that’s playing fair. The reader should have access to all of the clues that the protagonist has access to, and at the same time. We should be privy to the protagonist’s thoughts as he’s putting things together, not kept in the dark until he lays it all out.

In “Rough Country,” when the murderer was finally revealed and Flowers explains to others how he cracked the case, I realized that Sandford had dropped all of those clues along the way. Everything was there, practically staring me in the face, but I hadn’t been smart enough to put it together. That is playing fair, and playing very cleverly–telling me what happened, but without me realizing it.

As in the other two books, Lucas Davenport makes recurring appearances, usually by phone as Virgil Flowers keeps him posted about how the investigation is going.

While I enjoyed “Rough Country,” I liked the first two books, “Dark of the Moon” and “Heat Lightning,” even better. A fourth Flowers book came out in hardback in September 2010, so I can expect the paperback sometime this summer.

Sandford’s real name is John Camp. He didn’t start writing novels until age 45. Before that, he was a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, a job he left after hitting it big as a novel writer. His first book was “Fool’s Run,” the first Kidd book. But then he wrote “Rules of Prey,” which Putnam put on a fast-track because it was so good. The result: the two books were coming out within months of each other. To avoid confusion, Putnam asked him to come up with a pseudonym. He chose his father’s middle name, Sandford.

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Books: Four by John Sandford

sandfordbooks500.jpg

I started the year reading four John Sandford novels. Back to back, to back, to back. (Do I need another “to back”? Not sure.)

First came “Dark of the Moon,” Sandford’s first novel starring investigator Virgil Flowers. I found Flowers to be quite an engaging character, even more interesting that the renowned Lucas Davenport from Sandford’s “Prey” series. Flowers actually works for Davenport out of Minneapolis, Minn., and he regularly checks in with Davenport.

I liked “Dark of the Moon” so much–and Flowers so much–that I read the second Flowers book, “Heat Lightning.” It, too, was a winner. And I realized I had drawn a very good mental picture of Flowers:

  • Tall, lanky.
  • Shoulder-length blonde hair.
  • Always wears a T-shirt from a rock group (some well-known, like Sheryl Crow or AC/DC, others obscure groups), accompanied by a blazer and cowboy boots.
  • He’s a preacher’s kid, who thinks about God a lot, but doesn’t actively practice any religion.
  • He’s been married three times.

I realized that, though I’d read at least 15 of the Lucas Davenport novels (out of 19 to date), I didn’t have a clear picture of Davenport. So after reading those two Virgil Flowers books, I thought I should read about Davenport again. As it turns out, I had two on my shelf: “Broken Prey” and “Phantom Prey,” awaiting my attention.

But after reading them, I still don’t have a clear picture of Davenport in my head.

However, all four of these were excellent books, each dealing with a serial killer. Sandford is a master at misdirection, dropping all kinds of clues but still keeping the reader in the dark. He plays fair. Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammet would wait until the end, when the protagonist would deliver a long speech explaining everything that had happened, including information not previously available to the reader. I don’t like that. With Sandford, the mystery gradually unfolds, and you’re aware of what’s happening as the hero is.

In most books, you don’t know the killer until toward the end. In others, like “Invisible Prey,” you know who they are all along; you’re just waiting for Davenport to figure it out. Then there are books like “Phantom Prey,” where the reader finds out about halfway through (though in that case, plenty of mystery remained). Sandford always does it right.

In brief:

  • “Dark of the Moon” occurs in a small town, with the requisite small-town intrigue where everybody knows everybody else.
  • “Heat Lighting” involves a group of men who were in Vietnam together, and are getting killed one after another.
  • “Broken Prey” involves murders with a connection to a prison hospital. One of his better “Prey” books.
  • “Phantom Prey” involves killings in the Goth community. Has some psychological thriller elements, and I’m not a real fan of that.
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