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.