Quick Review: AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey (Thomas & Mercer)

SakeyM-AfterlifeAn intriguing, cinematic action thriller

Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds… and an unforgettable love story.

The last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion — a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave.

He wakes without a scratch.

The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people — until he sees they’re carrying machetes.

Welcome to the afterlife.

Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic.

Against this horror, something reckless and beautiful happened. She fell in love… with Will Brody.

But the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect — and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.

I’ve been aware of Marcus Sakey’s work for many years, and have faithfully bought a fair number of his novels. For some strange reason, though, I keep forgetting I have them on my Kindle… I started to see many thriller authors whose work I very much enjoy sharing praise for Afterlife not so long ago, so I snapped it up and started reading right away. I was certainly an entertaining read. Continue reading

Review: THE FORCE by Don Winslow (Harper Collins/William Morrow)

WinslowD-TheForceUKPossibly the best thriller (or novel) of the year?

Everyone can be bought. At the right price…

Detective sergeant Denny Malone leads an elite unit to fight gangs, drugs and guns in New York. For eighteen years he’s been on the front lines, doing whatever it takes to survive in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone himself is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash. Now he’s caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk a thin line of betrayal, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Don Winslow’s latest novel is a haunting story of greed and violence, inequality and race, and a searing portrait of a city on the edge of an abyss. Full of shocking twists, this is a morally complex and riveting dissection of the controversial issues confronting society today.

The Force is the first of Winslow’s novels that I’ve read. It will definitely not be the last. There was a lot of pre-publication buzz surrounding this novel, and I can certainly now see why: it’s superb. On almost every level, this novel is a triumph. Continue reading

Review: DON’T LOOK FOR ME by Mason Cross (Orion/Pegasus)

CrossM-4-DontLookForMeUKAn excellent fourth Carter Blake novel

Don’t look for me.

It was a simple instruction. And for six long years Carter Blake kept his word and didn’t search for the woman he once loved. But now someone else is looking for her.

He’ll come for you.

Trenton Gage is a hitman with a talent for finding people — dead or alive. His next job is to track down a woman who’s on the run, who is harbouring a secret many will kill for.

Both men are hunting the same person. The question is, who will find her first?

I loved the first three novels in Cross’s Carter Blake series. They could be seen as an opening trilogy, and after that story’s explosive ending, I wondered where Cross would take his character in the future. In Don’t Look For Me, the author adjusts the focus a bit, and gives readers a smaller-scale story that is no less gripping and enjoyable. Continue reading

Review: TROPIC OF KANSAS by Christopher Brown (Voyager)

brownc-tropicofkansasusA terrifyingly realistic dystopian novel

The United States of America is no more. Broken into warring territories, its center has become a wasteland DMZ known as “the Tropic of Kansas.” Though this gaping geographic hole has no clear boundaries, everyone knows it’s out there — that once-bountiful part of the heartland, broken by greed and exploitation, where neglect now breeds unrest. Two travelers appear in this arid American wilderness: Sig, the fugitive orphan of political dissidents, and his foster sister Tania, a government investigator whose search for Sig leads her into her own past — and towards an unexpected future.

Sig promised those he loves that he would make it to the revolutionary redoubt of occupied New Orleans. But first he must survive the wild edgelands of a barren mid-America policed by citizen militias and autonomous drones, where one wrong move can mean capture… or death. One step behind, undercover in the underground, is Tania. Her infiltration of clandestine networks made of old technology and new politics soon transforms her into the hunted one, and gives her a shot at being the agent of real change — if she is willing to give up the explosive government secrets she has sworn to protect.

As brother and sister traverse these vast and dangerous badlands, their paths will eventually intersect on the front lines of a revolution whose fuse they are about to light.

As the news is filled with stories of creeping fascism, an increase in the militarization of police forces, and a “fortress America” mentality settling in for those on the right (although, mostly, it’s anyone who voted for Donald Trump), this novel feels frighteningly realistic. It is also very good. Continue reading

Review: CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham (Doubleday)

GrishamJ-CaminoIslandUSAn enjoyable biblio-mystery

A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise…

This is not your typical John Grisham thriller. For one thing, it’s mostly a novel about publishing, writing and bookselling with an overlying crime story to bring everything together. I very much enjoyed it. Continue reading

Review: GOLDEN PREY by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

SandfordJ-LD27-GoldenPreyUSLucas Davenport’s first mission as a US Marshal

The man was smart and he didn’t mind killing people. Welcome to the big leagues, Davenport.

Thanks to some very influential people whose lives he saved, Lucas is no longer working for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but for the U.S. Marshals Service, and with unusual scope. He gets to pick his own cases, whatever they are, wherever they lead him.

And where they’ve led him this time is into real trouble. A Biloxi, Mississippi, drug-cartel counting house gets robbed, and suitcases full of cash disappear, leaving behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl. Davenport takes the case, which quickly spirals out of control, as cartel assassins, including a torturer known as the “Queen of home-improvement tools” compete with Davenport to find the Dixie Hicks shooters who knocked over the counting house. Things get ugly real fast, and neither the cartel killers nor the holdup men give a damn about whose lives Davenport might have saved; to them, he’s just another large target.

In this, Lucas Davenport’s 27th novel, our hero shows no evidence of slowing down. Sandford also shows no evidence of running out of ideas. Davenport is now a US Marshal (albeit, one with a special classification), entering a larger jurisdiction populated by the worst of the worst. Tightly-plotted, excellently paced, Golden Prey is another superb addition to the series. Continue reading

Review: THE SECOND GIRL by David Swinson (Mulholland)

SwinsonD-SecondGirlUSOne of the strongest crime series beginnings in many years

He’s a good detective… with a bad habit.

Frank Marr knows crime in Washington, DC. A decorated former police detective, he retired early and now ekes out a living as a private eye for a defense attorney. Frank Marr may be the best investigator the city has ever known, but the city doesn’t know his dirty secret.

A longtime drug addict, Frank has lent his considerable skills to hiding his habit from others. But after he accidentally discovers a kidnapped teenage girl in the home of a local drug gang, Frank becomes a hero and is thrust into the spotlight. He reluctantly agrees to investigate the disappearance of another girl — possibly connected to the first — and the heightened scrutiny may bring his own habits to light, too.

Frank is as slippery and charming an antihero as you’ve ever met, but he’s also achingly vulnerable. The result is a mystery of startling intensity, a tightly coiled thriller where every scene may turn disastrous. The Second Girl is the crime novel of the season and the start of a thunderous new series from an author who knows the criminal underworld inside and out.

I was rather slow getting around to reading this novel, and damn was that a stupid idea. The Second Girl is easily one of the strongest starts to a crime series that I’ve read in years. The characters, story, pacing… all of it worked perfectly. I was hooked from the opening scene, and all I wanted to do was keep reading. Continue reading