30.1.14

THREE SECONDS, by Roslund & Hellstrom

A Swedish thriller by a prize-winning collaboration between a journalist and a former criminal, this inch-thick novel will, at times, keep your adrenalin pumping fiercely. Piet Hoffman is an ex-convict and now an undercover agent, infiltrating the Polish mafia as they seek to corner the drug market in Sweden. Hoffman agrees to be set up for a crime and be sent to Sweden's toughest prison. As this happens, high-ranking Swedish officials, with whom Hoffman has met, panic. I can't bear to spoil, because the first part of the novel leads into the heart-stopping three seconds that will save or end Hoffman's life. This big book is not a tight, Dragon Tattoo-type novel, I found many parts of it needlessly repetitive. Still, if you are a devotee of high-tension combined with exhaustive personality studies and insider knowledge of prisons, this detailed, sprawling book could be right down your alley. In Sweden, it won crime novel of the year. For me, it's a 3.5.

28.1.14

LOST, by Michael Robotham

2/series. Chief Inspector Vincent Ruiz is fished out of the chilly Thames River, near death and with a case of amnesia. As usual, he's at odds with his superiors, this time as he wants to re-open a closed, case with the weird, unlikeable perpetrator in prison. But Ruiz doesn't let up, he's convinced young Mickey Carlyle, who vanished three years earlier, is still alive. As bits of his memory float to the top with help from his psychologist friend Joe O'Loughlin, Ruiz retraces his steps during the days preceding his midnight swim. At once, he's sucked into the unforgiving world of one of London's top organized crime figures. Click for more...

26.1.14

A PARTISAN'S DAUGHTER, by Louis deBernieres

The award-winning author of Corelli's Mandolin has changed pace in this little book, and given us the tale of Chris, a stifled Englishman incarcerated in a loveless, sexless marriage to a woman he refers to as the Great White Loaf. Mistaking Roza for a prostitute, he stops his car. She's at first repulsed, then decides to take advantage and hitches a ride home from him. Daring, cheeky behavior, right? But that's only the beginning.Click for more...

24.1.14

ITALIAN WAYS, by Tim Parks

If you love Italy as I do, this book should be yours. This is not a travelogue in the traditional sense, it is a love note (more or less, and sometimes a lot less) to the Italian train system. Parks, an Englishman, has lived in Verona for three decades, and commutes 100+ miles each way to Milano where he is a professore. He knows Italian trains intimately. And just like some trains, he doesn't go directly to his destination, there's delays and what at first seem like inexplicable detours. If you are the type of tourist that has seen Italy in five days with a guide, this book may not be for you. If you've backpacked through it, or gone from one hostel to another as I did l year before last, if you've taken time to smell the pizza sauce...read this little book. You'll love it. I loved it for its last paragraph alone. It's a 4.

22.1.14

SUSPECT, by Michael Robotham

1/series. Psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is at the top of his game: at 42, he's got a solid professional practice, the respect of his peers, a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter, a good house in one of London's better areas. And then he gets a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. click here for more...

20.1.14

OSCAR WILDE AND A GAME CALLED MURDER, by Gyles Brandreth

2/series. London, 1890's. At a meeting of the Socrates Club, founded and led by the fabulous Oscar Wilde, the host asks his guests to play a game: who would you murder if you could? Over objections from guests Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle, the game proceeds to its uncomfortable end. Later, victims begin to die in unusual circumstances. But who among the guests, most well known to Wilde and his closest friends, could be the killer? As the clock ticks toward Wilde's own name, he must find the killer or fall victim himself. A 4. At this point, there's only six in the series; a perfect gift for a Wilde aficionado. The author is a TV host, speaker, entertainer, and writer (also a former British MP), and his well-organized website is fun to visit.
www.gylesbrandreth.com

17.1.14

RENDER UNTO CAESAR, by Gillian Bradshaw

Historical suspense doesn't get a whole lot better than this. Set in Imperial Rome, young Alexandrian businessman, Hermogenes, arrives in Rome to collect a debt he inherited from his uncle. The money, a considerable sum, is owed by a Roman general, one of the commanding victors of Actium which brought Egypt firmly into Rome's orbit. But the general sneers at Hermogenes' efforts, and attempts to kill him. click here for more...

15.1.14

THE PROBLEM WITH TITLES

All titles in these reviews, unless otherwise stated, are the American titles. Sad but true, most books are sold under multiple titles, rarely the same one from one country to the next. If you cannot find a book as titled here, go to the author's website and look for the title for your country.

RATKING, by Michael Dibdin

1/series. Lovers of foreign-set mysteries will dive right into this many-layered tale of murder, family dynamics, love, revenge and the convoluted workings of the Italian police and justice system. Venetian-born Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen has been shuttled into a meaningless job as punishment for pursuing a kidnapping he shouldn't have shown an interest in. Multi-millionaire family head Ruggiero Milleti has been kidnapped. Zen is assigned to Perugia, where the Miletti empire is headquartered, and ordered to find the victim. The family claims to be devastated by the situation, but quibbles over the ransom. Local police do not help Zen, who's regarded as a threat and an interloper. But Zen on his own is even more dangerous than Zen with help. This is the perfect introduction to the series: subtle, complex, emotional. It's a 5.

13.1.14

ALEXANDRIA, by Lindsey Davis

19/series. Marcus Didius Falco, a private "informer" often employed by Emperor Vespasian, is on vacation with his family, this time in Alexandria, Egypt, one of Rome's territories. The Head Librarian of the famed library is found dead in his locked office. It could be murder. Or not. Falco is roped into the investigation, those around him assuming he's Vespasian's spy. Click for more...

11.1.14

QUEEN OF THE FLOWERS, by Kerry Greenwood

14/series. Once again, the one-of-a-kind Phryne Fisher investigates, this time a missing Flower Girl, one of her handmaids in the local Flower Festival. The girl, troubled and erratic, seems to have run away. Or has she been kidnapped? Enter the elephants, with their henna-haired owner, an old friend of Phryne's, and the rest of the circus, camped down on the beach near Phryne's St. Kilda home. Searching for the girl, Phyrne hears fiddle music, sweet and familiar enough to stop her in her tracks.An old flame hoves into view, and the plot, as always, gets even more interesting. If you've read any of these delightful mysteries, I know you're hooked. These can be read stand-alone, but you'll miss a lot of fun, so why not read in order? Another 5.
www.phrynefisher.com

7.1.14

BURNT SIENNA, by David Morrell

Set in Mexico and France, this is a fast-moving combination of face-offs, mega-wealthy deranged arms dealers, artistic vision, and a romance that rarely goes smoothly.  Acclaimed artist Chase Malone, working at his Cozumel studio, is made an offer he shouldn't have refused. Retaliation is swift. When the bulldozers show up and his life is ripped apart, he takes steps to even the score. Up against a man who has no boundaries, hired to paint two portraits of the man's wife, Chase does the unthinkable: he falls in love with the wife. But Chase knows the wife, Sienna, a stunning former model, is scheduled for an "accident". Non-stop thrills, lots of very inventive problem-solving, and a really nasty bad guy. It's a 4. Morrell has dozens of books to his credit, so if you need an action fix, this could be your go-to author.

5.1.14

JUST ONE EVIL ACT, by Elizabeth George

18?/series. London-based Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his unpredictable sidekick DS Barbara Havers are at it again in this gigantic, 719-page epic. I suspect the extravagantly talented Ms. George has a touch of Gabaldon-envy, and is trying for the doorstop size Gabaldon so effortlessly attains. The tale centers around Barbara Havers' neighbor, handsome, courtly Professor Taymullah Azhar and his delightful nine year-old daughter Hadiyyah, both of whom Havers loves dearly. Perhaps too dearly? Click for more, but never a spoiler...

JUST ONE EVIL ACT,

MISTRESS OF MY FATE, by Hallie Rubenhold

1/series. This beautifully-detailed debut historical romance chronicles, in autobiographical form, the life of beautiful, impetuous, often not-terribly-bright (love does that) Henrietta Lightfoot, the usually ignored illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who is raised as companion (forever, is implied) to her flighty half-sister Lady Catherine. As Lady Catherine's nuptuals to the man who loves Henrietta approaches, disaster strikes. Henrietta flees and the first of many unexpected twists occur. The plot bubbles, centered on the decadent world of kept women, rakes, and the perils of being naive in 18th century England. The surprising twist at the end of this first volume saves this romance from being tedious at times. The historian/author knows this age well, and has employed several of the habits of writing then popular. A great fictional debut: it's a 4.

3.1.14

BURN BEFORE READING, by Admiral Stansfield Turner

You know that old question about who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone? Stansfield Turner would be on my must-ask list (along with Elizabeth I). Turner, whose military career was distinguished, went on to head the CIA from 1977 to 1981. His history of American espionage and counter-intelligence highlights the difficulties a democracy has in protecting itself and its citizens. And it usually doesn't do such a good job (from Pearl Harbor to the Bay of Pigs to 9/11, much has gone wrong in the "intelligence" world). Current and recent events in the intelligence community, the posturing and pontificating and hand-wringing Congress is overly fond of, the turf battles short-sighted men indulge in to the detriment of getting the job done, all are fleshed out in this intense but very readable book. Whether you're pro-CIA or wish they'd be defunded, this book will enlighten you and give you a historical background necessary to not only understanding today's issues but perhaps coming toward better solutions to problems and situations that will never go away. It's a 5. Originally reviewed in 2013.