Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DEADFALL by Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein

            A little more than ten months ago, I reviewed the then latest Linda Fairstein novel, Killer Look (see review dated August 31, 2016). Although I love Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper series, I was ambivalent about Killer Look. But, Fairstein pulled the rug out from under her readers in a stunning move at the end of that book. Despite any misgivings I might have had about the book, I could not wait to read more of Alex’s story. Thankfully, I did not have to wait too long, and it was well worth any amount of waiting.

            Deadfall, the next installment in the series, will be released on July 25, 2017. The book essentially picks up where Killer Look ended, right after the Fairstein bombshell that rocked our world. Alex is a witness on this occasion; but, is she also a suspect? Or, a target? Or, is she the deadfall? What is going on? Whatever it is, the investigation is moving too slowly for Alex, so, with the help of Mike and Mercer, she is determined to get to the truth. Her inquiries take us into the world of endangered species, big game hunters (what really happened to Justice Scalia at that Texas ranch resort?), and the illegal trade of animal parts. Along the way, we learn about the history of the zoos in New York, although the investigation has national and international aspects as well.

            I absolutely loved Deadfall, from start to finish. It is an unrelenting fast-paced, gripping adventure. The plot is complex and convoluted. I do not feel like I was able to follow the reasoning that Alex used to reach the conclusion, but I attribute that to reading too quickly. I plan to go back and reread the book and hope to be able to fill in these gaps.

            It has been awhile since a book took hold of me at the get-go and did not let go until the end (actually, this one didn’t even let go at the end). Deadfall is one of Fairstein’s best.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE ONE-EYED JUDGE by Michael Ponsor

Michael Ponsor

            The One-Eyed Judge is the second novel written by Michael Ponsor, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Massachusetts, about Judge David Norcross, also a Massachusetts federal judge. As I loved Ponsor’s first novel, The Hanging Judge (see review dated October 28, 2014), I jumped at the opportunity to read The One-Eyed Judge. And once again, Ponsor does not disappoint.

            Child pornography. That is the gruesome crime with which Professor Stanley Cranmer is charged. Ironic, as Cranmer is an English professor at Amherst College, specializing in Lewis Carroll. After the case is assigned to Judge Norcross, his life is thrown into turmoil – and not just because his girlfriend is a colleague and friend of Cranmer’s.

            While reading The One-Eyed Judge, I was reminded of what I wrote while reviewing The Hanging Judge: as a lawyer and former federal judicial law clerk, Ponsor’s fiction is just the sort of book that I usually avoid. But, Ponsor masterfully incorporates his many years of experience on the federal bench, and The One-Eyed Judge is a realistic and gripping legal thriller.

            I thoroughly enjoyed The One-Eyed Judge, and I cannot wait to read the next Judge Norcross novel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

GOLDEN PREY by John Sandford

John Sandford

Lucas Davenport, U.S. Marshal.

            Interesting development in John Sandford’s Prey series. And, as Golden Prey is Marshal Davenport’s first “adventure” as a member of the U.S. Marshal Service, it, too, is very interesting.

            Garvin Poole is a really bad guy. But, when he steals money from the Honduran drug cartel – killing 5 people, including a 6 year old girl, in the process – he crosses some guys who are, perhaps, even “badder”. And, they want their money back. Marshal Davenport just wants Poole.

            We accompany Lucas as he tracks Poole across the south. Although some of his previous cases involved some inter-state elements, they were nothing like the jurisdictional freedom Lucas has as a federal marshal. And in Golden Prey, Lucas ends up in my home state, the great State of Texas, making it even more fun for me to tag along. But, can he find Poole before the very nasty cartel assassins?

            I am a long time Sandford fan. A few years ago, I became disenchanted, as he seemed to have forgotten, or confused, the backstory of a character. I continued to follow his Davenport and Flowers series, however, and was very pleasantly surprised to find that the last few books released in both series reflect the John Sandford of old – Sandford is back and on top of his game. Golden Prey, however, seems to fall somewhere in the middle. The book feels a little rushed and chaotic. Although it might not demonstrate Davenport’s meticulous logic, as he progresses step by step through the plot, it still includes typical Sandford humor.

            Overall, Golden Prey is an enjoyable experience. I look forward to future adventures with Lucas Davenport, U.S. Marshal.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

THE SHADOW LAND by Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova

            When Alexandra Boyd, a young American, arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria to teach, a taxi drops her at the wrong hotel. After the jet-lagged Alexandra encounters a Bulgarian family outside the hotel, she gets into another taxi, to take her to the proper location, and belatedly realizes that one of the family’s bags is now accidentally in her possession. Looking inside, she discovers that the bag contains an urn with the cremated remains of Stoyan Lazarov. With the help of an unusual taxi driver, Alexandra embarks on a sort of single minded mission to find the family so that she can return the remains. While the taxi driver drives Alexandra seemingly all around Bulgaria in search of the family, we learn about Stoyan Lazarov, a gifted musician, and about the history of labor camps in Bulgaria.

            I loved Kostova’s earlier novels, The Historian and The Swam Thieves (see reviews dated June 27, 2015), and I was so looking forward to reading more of her work. The Shadow Land, however, left me disappointed.

            The story line in The Shadow Land feels contrived, forced. Although Alexandra’s chance meeting with the family sets up the meat of the story, the whole premise seems unrealistic and, well, somewhat silly. Alexandra’s backstory, about her life in North Carolina, is interesting, but feels irrelevant to the real story that Kostova wants to tell. In fact, Alexandra herself does not seem to add much to this real story – she is just a nice young woman who wants to return remains that accidentally ended up in her possession and is just along for the ride.

Kostova wanted to tell Stoyan’s story – and it is a good one; she wanted to tell Bulgaria’s story – and it is interesting. But, the vehicle she employs to tell these stories, Alexandra, does not work, and the plot feels disjointed. Alexandra feels superfluous.

            Kostova has done a good job of capturing the fear that permeated Bulgarian citizens in Stoyan’s heyday. She has done a good job of capturing the horrific nature of the secret labor camps. It is clear that she loves her adopted country. But, I am not sure that she has succeeded in conveying the basis of that love to her readers. After completing the book, I do not see the beauty or feel the pull of the country that Kostova obviously does, and I feel no inclination that Bulgaria is a “must-see”.

            Although I am still a fan – and will again await Kostova’s next novel – The Shadow Land does not measure up to the usual Kostova standards.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman

            In A Man Called Ove, by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, there is this man, and he is called Ove.

            When we first meet Ove, we see a grouchy old geezer. But at 59, Ove is not really old – perhaps he is old in spirit, rather than old in age. Nonetheless, he is a fixture of sorts in his neighborhood. We see that Ove is rather rigid. There is a way things should be – a way things should be done – and, according to Ove, young ‘uns these days aren’t taught this. Ove cannot understand this generation that has not been taught these basics in self-sufficiency – but does that really make Ove rigid? Ove’s neighbors push themselves into his world – a cat insinuates himself into Ove’s life– and then Ove’s orderly world seems shot to hell.

            Backman has created a thoughtful examination of stereotype versus reality. As we learn more about Ove, peel away layers, so to speak, we learn that people are not always what they appear to be. There are underlying complexities which, once understood, demonstrate how misleading stereotypes and first impressions can be. We have all known an Ove – but how many of us have ever gotten to know our Ove?

            A Man Called Ove is well written, engaging, entertaining, sad, yet a poignant study about our contemporary world. The book has been made into an Oscar nominated movie – I recommend that you read the book before seeing the movie.