Books Received… (Amazon Associates Pay-Back)

BooksReceived-20140630-AmazonAssoc

I’ve been signed up to the Amazon Associates programme for what feels like forever, but this month was the first time I’ve earned enough to receive pay-back. So, as I always intended to do, that money will be going towards books that I will be reviewing here. Given the timing, some of this money will go towards buying eBooks of ARCs I’ve received and won’t be able to take with me to Canada. (Sad.) Much like the “Books Received” posts, therefore, I thought I’d share details on the books I bought (so far) with the Amazon credit…

Featuring: Megan Abbott, Edward Cox, Mark Charan Newton, Joanna Rakoff, Django Wexler

AbbottM-QueenpinUKMegan Abbott, Queenpin (Simon & Schuster)

A young woman hired to keep the books at a down-at-heel nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. The moll to end all molls, Gloria is notoriously cunning and ruthless. She shows her eager young protégée the ropes, ushering her into a glittering whirl of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlours, inside heists and big, big money. Suddenly, the world is at her feet — as long as she doesn’t take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy.

It all falls to pieces with a few turns of the roulette wheel, as both mentor and protégée scramble to stay one step ahead of their bosses and each other.

In the tradition of hardboiled potboilers such as Double Indemnity and The Grifters and mob tales such as Goodfellas, Queenpin offers a feminine twist on a classic story of underworld seduction and greed, or tortured loyalty and inevitable betrayal.

I still haven’t read anything by Abbott, but I now have four of her novels – Dare Me, The End of Everything, and The Fever as well as this one. I’ve heard nothing but excellent things.

*

CoxE-RG1-RelicGuild2014Edward Cox, The Relic Guild (Gollancz)

Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.

It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls 100 feet high.

Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh.

The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth – and the lives of one million humans – Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.

Because I read an early version, loved it, and can’t wait to read the final version. It’s also available as part of Gollancz’s 2014 Debuts eBook Promotion, so it’s only £1.99.

*

NewtonMC-DrakenfeldPBMark Charan Newton, Drakenfeld (Tor UK)

The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years by laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, nations have flourished but corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive…

Receiving news of his father’s death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King’s sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power. Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent. The fate of the nations is in his hands.

I have no idea why I haven’t read this, yet. I loved Newton’s first series, The Legends of the Red Sun, after all. I think it arrived during one of my fantasy-fatigue moments, so got put back. Now I have no excuse.

Also on CR: Interview with Mark Charan Newton; Catch-Up Interview; Reviews of The Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, The Book of Transformations, and The Broken Isles

*

RakoffJ-MySalingerYearUKJoanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year (Bloomsbury)

At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J.D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-panelled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Brooklyn apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend.

Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities and struggling to trust her own artistic sense, Joanna is given the task of answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back…

I’m actually reading this at the moment, having started it last night. In fact, I should have it finished tonight, and reviewed by the end of the week. It’s a… strange read. I can’t stop reading it, and the prose is very breezy, but at the same time I can’t figure out if I like it or find it really irritating. Hopefully I’ll have figured this out by the time I review it. My Salinger Year is not what I was expecting – in some ways, this is very disappointing, while in others it has been better than expected.

*

WexlerD-2-ShadowThroneUKDjango Wexler, The Shadow Campaign (Del Rey UK)

Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne.

The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries – and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom.

And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy.

Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself – and her country – out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass.

As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence – at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise

Really enjoyed the first novel in the series, The Thousand Names, and also the short story The Penitent Damned. I am, therefore, very much looking forward to reading this. It’s out on July 3rd. The Shadow Campaign has already been garnering good reviews, so I’m rather excited about starting this ASAP. Maybe on Thursday, as soon as it’s delivered to my Kindle…

Also on CR: Interview with Django Wexler; Reviews of The Thousand Names and The Penitent Damned; Guest Post on Terry Pratchett

*

News: Vince Flynn’s MITCH RAPP Series to Continue!

Last September, I wrote a piece about how the movie Olympus Has Fallen bore some incredible similarities to Vince Flynn’s Transfer of Power. The piece was pretty short, but I also mentioned in it the fact that Flynn passed away in June 2013. It was also reported, through Flynn’s newsletter, that the planned next novel in the series, The Survivor, had been indefinitely suspended.

Since then, however, some very interesting news has arrived in my inbox! On June 22nd, Flynn’s Newsletter announced that “Mitch Rapp series will continue; The Survivor Tentatively Scheduled for 2015”!

As it turns out, one of my favourite thriller authors, Kyle Mills, has been selected to continue the series by Flynn’s estate and Emily Bestler, Senior VP and Editor-in-Chief of Emily Bestler Books. From the press release:

Mills will complete The Survivor, the book Flynn was writing at the time of his death on June 19, 2013, and then write two additional Mitch Rapp novels. The Survivor is tentatively scheduled to release in the fall of 2015.

“I’m really honored to have been asked to continue the Mitch Rapp series,” Mills said, “Vince was a great guy who helped me out in my career and as a diehard Rapp fan, I know how devastated his readers are. They’re big shoes to fill, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of continuing an iconic thriller character.”

“Vince and Mitch Rapp are so beloved by readers,” Bestler said, “It’s wonderful that we’ve found just the right partner to uphold the legacy of both.”

“To Vince’s wonderful fans, thank you for your love, support and patience,” Vince’s widow, Lysa Flynn said, “Vince was very proud of his team and we are confident that Kyle Mills will be a great addition. God bless and keep the faith!”

Mills is the author of the Mark Beamon thrillers and a handful of stand-alone thrillers. Most recently, he wrote The Immortalists (which, I am ashamed to admit, I have not read yet) and also The Ares Decision, The Utopia Experiment, and the upcoming The Von Neumann Machine – books 8, 10 and 1? of Tom Clancy’s Covert-One series. Many of Mills’s novels are very hard to find in the UK, which I think is a crime. It is also why it has always taken me a long time to get around to reading them – I discovered his novels well before CR was ever a thing.

MillsK-CovertOneNovels

Mark Beamon Series: Rising Phoenix, Storming Heaven, Free Fall, Sphere of Influence and Darkness Falls

MillsK-MarkBeamonSeries.jpg

Stand-Alone Novels: Burn Factor, Smoke Screen, Fade, The Second Horseman, Lords of Corruption, The Immortalists

MillsK-StandAloneNovels

Review: FIELD OF PREY by John Sandford (Putnam/Simon & Schuster)

Sandford-24-FieldOfPreyUS24 books in, series still firing on all cylinders…

The night after the fourth of July, Layton Carlson Jr., of Red Wing, Minnesota, finally got lucky. And unlucky.

He’d picked the perfect spot to lose his virginity to his girlfriend, an abandoned farmyard in the middle of cornfields: nice, private, and quiet. The only problem was… something smelled bad – like, really bad. He mentioned it to a county deputy he knew, and when the cop took a look, he found a body stuffed down a cistern. And then another, and another.

By the time Lucas Davenport was called in, the police were up to fifteen bodies and counting. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, when Lucas began to investigate, he made some disturbing discoveries of his own. The victims had been killed over a great many years, one every summer, regular as clockwork. How could this have happened without anybody noticing?

Because one thing was for sure: the killer had to live close by. He was probably even someone they saw every day…

It really is quite impressive, the fact that this is the 24th book featuring Lucas Davenport (also known as the Prey Series) and it is so very good. Add to that the fact that Sandford is also writing the Virgil Flowers spin-off series as well (each gets a new book each year, for the past seven or eight years), and you start to realise just how talented and disciplined Sandford is as an author. I have read all of the Prey novels, and each one has been at the very least great and gripping. Field of Prey is no exception, but this time you can also add harrowing and intense. A great addition to the series. Continue reading

“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

One of the first things to jump out at me was just how aggressive Rapp is at the start of the novel. True, he’s a CIA assassin, who has had a decades-long career killing people all over the world, so how cuddly could he ever be, really? Nevertheless, he came across as far more aggressive and even downright mean when dealing with others. It felt like a real departure from how I remembered the character. The previous two novels Flynn wrote focused on Rapp’s early career, taking us to his first missions working for the CIA. This can, perhaps, account for the apparent shift in character – it’s been years since I read a novel when the ‘present day’ Rapp was at the centre of the story (a couple before the early ear novels focused more on one-time Rapp protégé Mike Nash). I’d accept, therefore, that I just forgot how the character was from before. At the same time (just to add yet more qualifiers), it definitely felt like he was just more aggressive and confrontational by default, rather than as a result of what’s going on around him. Maybe the novel’s naysayers have a point, that Rapp’s special status has made him more arrogant and given him a sense of invincibility (physical and political). He came across as though he was acting more macho and dick-swinging, rather than just being the Most Badass in Any Room.

Given just how much of an asshole he can be, this was one of the first times in the whole series when Flynn wasn’t able to always keep me on Rapp’s side, even when we know he’s pushing the envelope and bending rules just that little bit too far. Despite belabouring this impression, what I’ve come to consider the Rapp normalcy did reassert itself after I passed the 25% mark(ish).

Around this 25%-mark, Rapp is seriously injured, too. It allowed the author and character to take a look at Rapp’s life and SOP with a bit more depth. His memories are all screwed up, many of them missing, thanks to the head injury he sustains. We see him navigating the slow return of memories – both good and bad – and the way he processes them made him a more interesting and nuanced character. The presence of Louie Gould, too, added an extra level of tension (I won’t remind fans who he is, nor will I spoil it for new readers).

His injury is just one of a couple of factors that make Rapp more interesting as the novel progresses. True, he is still preternaturally gifted at his job, but he is kept grounded by mistakes and miscalculations (the cause of his injury, for example, is the result of a rash – though effective – last-minute tactical move). This humanising of Rapp, something that was not always as evident in the earlier novels, I thought was a welcome development – he’s not a super-human, faultless killing machine, anymore.

Flynn-LastManAs the novel continues, we learn of a larger conspiracy, which ended up being pretty well-told. There are the usual forces foreign and domestic working against Rapp, his comrades and CIA Director Irene Kennedy (who is always excellent). The final quarter of the novel is a fast-paced resolution that I could not put down, and I turned the final page at 2am. Flynn’s gift for constructing engaging, briskly-paced thrillers really was superb, and few authors writing in the same sub-genre could match him (David Baldacci and Kyle Mills are perhaps the only two I consider better).

There were a couple of moments when Flynn’s own politics and obvious affection and support for the clandestine and more force-oriented US governmental institutions shines through, coupled with less-than-positive portrayals of diplomatic actors. This doesn’t take up much of the novel, which also means he doesn’t offer the normal balance that I’ve always liked in his novels. The author was known for courting the conservative press in order to promote his novels – fair enough, as a conservative himself, why shouldn’t he? – but the fact that he didn’t lampoon liberals or Rapp’s opponents unnecessarily, always saved his novels from becoming ham-fisted anti-liberal screeds. Villains, foreign and domestic, were appropriately diabolical or (more likely) petty politicians, but were not limited to the Democratic Party. In The Last Man, however, it is far more about the investigation than the political forces at play behind the scenes – which is a pity, as Flynn really was very good at writing that part, too.

In all, then, a very good final novel, if not an excellent one. Nevertheless, I will seriously miss my annual fix of new fiction from Vince Flynn. The quality of his novels will allow them to persevere and, I’m sure, remain in print for many years to come. If you are a fan of international espionage thrillers, then I highly recommend Flynn’s work.

R.I.P. Vince Flynn, 1966-2013

Novel Chronology: American Assassin, Kill Shot, Term Limits,* Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Protect and Defend, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor, The Last Man

* This is not actually a Mitch Rapp novel, but a couple of the characters within feature throughout the main series. It’s an excellent novel, too.

An Interview with ALMA KATSU

KatsuA-I3-DescentUK

A few days ago, a copy of Alma Katsu’s third novel, The Descent dropped through the mailbox. It is the third novel in the author’s The Immortal trilogy, but I didn’t (at the time) know too much about the series or the author, so I took the opportunity to send her some questions.

Who is Alma Katsu?

As a girl, I wanted to have a magical, fantastical life but the outlook was kind of narrow and grim, and I think that’s why I turned to creating my own worlds in fiction. Then, funnily enough, I ended up having a life that was the stuff of fantasy: working in intelligence, traveling, doing all this technical, math-y stuff that I never would’ve thought possible for a little storyteller. Lesson: you never know where life will take you.

I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, The Descent, is the final part of The Immortal trilogy (to be published by Arrow). How would you introduce the series to new readers, and what can fans expect from this third book?

KatsuA-I3-Descent

UK & US Covers

The Immortal trilogy is the story of a young woman, Lanore McIlvrae, who goes to the very ends of the world—really sort of transcends the fabric of reality—for love, only to find out that she shouldn’t have done it, that she was wrong to do it. Just when she’s resolved that she’s going to be unhappy for the rest of her life because she can’t have the man she loves, she finds out that this other man has fallen in love with her, a terrible evil man who is willing to try to change for her if she will give him the chance. And that’s where we are in The Descent: will she give them both the chance to live happily ever after together?

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

I wanted to write the story of a woman whose love is so strong that it would literally transcend time, but who ends up making a terrible mistake and paying for it for eternity. Great big, tragic love stories in general are the inspiration for the books: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (I’m a big Thomas Hardy fan); Anna Karenina; Gothics such as Dracula. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire was a big inspiration for The Taker, but mostly for the structure: a character who has lived a long time and under unusual circumstances looks back on her tragic life.

I’ve noticed that as a writer I’m drawn to the same themes over and over and they tend to be tragic: the glory and the tyranny of love, losing your heart’s desire because of a Faustian bargain you’ve made. I’m starting to think about broader themes, too, such as seemingly insurmountable injustice. And I seem to be inspired by specific periods and places in history.

How were you introduced to genre fiction?

I am an eclectic reader. I started reading adult stuff very young. Edgar Allan Poe at eight, I think. It was a mix of everything, all kinds of genre as well as more mainstream and literary fiction. That’s probably one of the reasons I mix genres as a writer: as long as the story is great and the characters are rich and fully developed, that’s all that matters.

KatsuA-AuthorPic

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

For someone who has spent most of her adult life working for the government, where there is no profit motive, understanding the business side of publishing has been quite an experience. It’s not enough to have a great story, to have something that’s really well written if it doesn’t catch on with readers. You see so many really wonderful things that don’t find the readership they deserve and it’s heartbreaking.

I work on my writing every day, in addition to all the promotional things that writers must do. I constantly strive to be a better, more efficient writer. It’s something I learned from my day job, as an analyst: to make improvement a conscious decision. I’m not a fast writer by nature and that’s what I hope to work on in 2014: to do better early drafts so they don’t need so much revision. That probably makes me sound really dull and I’m afraid it’s true.

KatsuA-I1&2UK

Books 1 & 2 – UK Covers

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

When I was very young, my sister and I (with whom I shared a bedroom) used to stay up very late into the night telling a never-ending story. We did this for years. She grew tired of it and I suppose that’s when I started writing little stories of my own. Funny, I recently learned from her daughter (all grown up) that she used to do the same thing with her cousin (my other sister’s oldest daughter) whenever they got together. They would make up stories together. It must be in the blood.

KatsuA-I1&2US

Books 1 & 2 – US Covers

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

That’s a tough question for me because I don’t think my books fall into any particular genre. They are similar to books like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, or The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, or (dare I say?) The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger in that they are mainstream fiction with elements of various genres. In the case of The Immortal trilogy, I would say they’re mainstream fiction with historical, fantasy, romance and supernatural elements in them.

KatsuA-Inspirations

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I just came up with the idea of a story that deals with witches in Colonial New England – having grown up in a historical area in Massachusetts and fascinated with witches, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to come up with a story! I may be in the honeymoon phase, but I’m really excited about it. This means putting aside – again – an idea I have for a pure historical (no magic) set in Georgian times and involving highwaymen. I have a pile of books for research or that one, waiting to be read.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I’m reading Entertaining Satan as research for the novel I described earlier and I hope to start Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate soon. Also finishing up The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on audio because I like listening to audiobooks before bedtime. Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is on deck, as well as Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and Perfume by Patrick Suskind. And that’s just the books that have come in within the past few weeks. Honestly, there are so many books piled up here it’s a wonder I can get to the door.

KatsuA-Reading

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

For a few brief years in the 1980s, in Boston and Washington, D.C., I was a music journalist. I got to interview musicians like the Cars, Joan Jett, the Go-Gos and the Ramones.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

I’m changing day jobs. It’s to a place where I used to work and so I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends again. However, since the traffic in the D.C. area is horrendous, it also means selling our house and moving, which will be an absolute nightmare.

***

The Taker and The Reckoning are out now in the UK (Random House) and US (Simon & Schuster). The Descent will be published in January 2014. Be sure to follow the author on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, as well as check out her website for more information as well.

Theodore Roosevelt Responds to a Lampooning Review. Or, “This Probably Couldn’t Happen Today, on the Internet”

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUKAnyone who knows me, or perhaps anyone who reads my other blog, Politics Reader (yeah, I know, there’s a theme to the blog names), will undoubtedly have come across my interest in Theodore Roosevelt, his presidency and time. I am fascinated by the period of American history between (approx.) 1880 and the start of World War I. Given this interest, I devour pretty much any book I can get my hands on that focuses on that time and the people who shaped American history and politics then. At the moment, I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent, exhaustively-researched The Bully Pulpit. The book is about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the media. Today, I came across an amusing passage, which I thought I would share, here.

First, some context. Theodore Roosevelt was US president from 1901-08, first ascending to the Presidency after the assassination of William McKinley. Alongside his storied career in public service, he was a prolific author – between 1882-1919, he had 45 books and collections (of essays and letters) published. Finley Peter Dunne was a writer and humourist from Chicago, who wrote the nationally syndicated “Mr. Dooley” satires and lampoons.

In the fall of 1899, a copy of The Rough Riders, Roosevelt’s wartime memoir, came across Dunne’s desk. “Mr. Dooley’s” book review in Harper’s Weekly mocked Roosevelt’s propensity for placing himself at the center of all action: “Tis Th’ Biography iv a Hero by Wan who Knows. Tis Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man be an Actual Eye Witness,” Mr. Dooley observed. “If I was him, I’d call th’ book, ‘Alone in Cubia.’” Three days after this satirical assessment amused readers across the country, Roosevelt wrote to Dunne: “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall exact that when you next come east to pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.” (pp.257-8)

GoodwinDK-BullyPulpitUSThe full review is the first in Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy (which is available as a PDF online – pp.13-18). collected Dunne was clearly touched by Roosevelt’s letter, and in his reply to Roosevelt, accepting the invitation, he also said:

“… the way you took Mr. Dooley is a little discouraging. The number of persons who are worthwhile firing at is so small that as a matter of business I must regret the loss of one of them. Still if in losing a target I have, perhaps, gained a friend I am in after all.” (p.258)

Dunne never had to regret the loss of TR as a target, however. The reviewer continued to poke fun at TR (“the nation’s premiere target” as Goodwin calls him) for years to come, and the two remained friends throughout.

Today, when an author responds to a negative or critical review – especially on the internet – it never seems to go well for the author (see, for example, who-knows-how-many self-published authors lashing out at bloggers; or even the more recent, bizarre-and-quite-pathetic reaction to Ben Aaronovitch’s polite pointing out of a review’s factual misunderstanding). The above response and exchange between Dunne and Roosevelt… It could never happen today. Which is a real shame.

[I am currently reading The Bully Pulpit for review on Politics Reader. The book was provided by Goodwin’s UK publisher, Viking/Penguin. In the US, the book is published by Simon & Schuster.]

“Silken Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam/Simon & Schuster)

Sandford-23-SilkenPreyUKMurder, scandal, political espionage, and an extremely dangerous woman. Lucas Davenport’s going to be lucky to get out of this one alive.

Very early one morning, a Minnesota political fixer answers his doorbell. The next thing he knows, he’s waking up on the floor of a moving car, lying on a plastic sheet, his body wet with blood. When the car stops, a voice says, “Hey, I think he’s breathing,” and another voice says, “Yeah? Give me the bat.” And that’s the last thing he knows.   

Davenport is investigating another case when the trail leads to the man’s disappearance, then — very troublingly — to the Minneapolis police department, then — most troublingly of all — to a woman who could give Machiavelli lessons. She has very definite ideas about the way the world should work, and the money, ruthlessness, and sheer will to make it happen.

No matter who gets in the way.

I’m a huge fan of Sandford’s Minnesota-based crime thrillers. In fact, I would say that he’s probably my favourite thriller author bar none. Silken Prey is the 23rd novel in his Lucas Davenport series, and the series just keeps firing on all cylinders. This time, Sandford turns his attention to politics, which always offers new and ‘exciting’ ways in which an investigation can become muddled, dangerous, or even impossible. Lucas is tasked by the Democratic governor to investigate what appears to be a political framing of the Republican Senator. Making things really tricky, of course, is the fact that they are all in the middle of the election. Party politics, dirty tricks, extreme suspicion, and a deadly killer (or two) operating on the sidelines? This is Davenport. He can handle it. Maybe…

The novel displays Sandford’s easy, inviting prose style, the wry humour that has always made this series stand out, and also his engaging and endearing characters. The friendship between Lucas and his various colleagues feels very natural – after 23 novels, how could it not be? The antagonists of the piece are well-drawn, avoiding cartoon-ish cliché or exaggeration. It was nice to see Kidd and Lauren make an appearance, as it feels like a really long time since we saw them last (the two of them had their own, four-book series earlier in Sandford’s career – and I would highly recommend those, too). The novel is uncluttered, unpretentious, and very focused. It’s not a blockbuster thriller, with a focus on character way more than guns or action-scenes.

The ending was just a smidge muddled, as if the author felt he needed to wrap things up relatively quickly, but I think he nevertheless manages to pull it off, and it wasn’t dissatisfying. It didn’t feel rushed, actually. The conclusion also leaves things open for further exploration in a later book (which I really hope Sandford does). I get the feeling that Sandford has some big plans for Davenport’s future, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. This far into a series, it is a testament to the author’s exceptional skill as a writer that he manages to make each new novel as gripping and addictive as the last. Long may this continue!

A short-and-sweet review, this. I don’t want to delve too much into the story, as there are a couple of switches and changes at certain points of the narrative. The synopsis, above, should suffice to give you as much as you need. All I can say is that John Sandford is a superb writer, and Silken Prey is yet another strong addition to his beloved series. I will really have to catch up with the companion series, which follows Davenport’s protégé (of sorts), Virgil Flowers. I’ve read the first in that series, but have six more to catch up on. I may plan to do that over Christmas and New Year.

Very highly recommended for all fans of crime thrillers.