Review: THE WAYS OF THE DEAD and MURDER, D.C. by Neely Tucker (Penguin/Windmill)

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A fantastic, must-read new thriller series

Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C. judge, is dead, her body discovered in a slum in the shadow of the Capitol. Though the police promptly arrest three local black kids, newspaper reporter Sully Carter suspects there’s more to the case. Reese’s slaying might be related to a string of cold cases the police barely investigated, among them the recent disappearance of a gorgeous university student.

A journalist brought home from war-torn Bosnia and hobbled by loss, rage, and alcohol, Sully encounters a city rife with its own brand of treachery and intrigue. Weaving through D.C.’s broad avenues and shady backstreets on his Ducati 916 motorcycle, Sully comes to know not just the city’s pristine monuments of power but the blighted neighborhoods beyond the reach of the Metro. With the city clamoring for a conviction, Sully pursues the truth about the murders — all against pressure from government officials, police brass, suspicious locals, and even his own bosses at the paper.

A wry, street-smart hero with a serious authority problem, Sully delves into a deeply layered mystery, revealing vivid portraits of the nation’s capital from the highest corridors of power to D.C.’s seedy underbelly, where violence and corruption reign supreme — and where Sully must confront the back-breaking line between what you think and what you know, and what you know and what you can print. Inspired by the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders and set in the last glory days of the American newspaper, The Ways of the Dead is a wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media. Neely Tucker delivers a flawless rendering of a fast-paced, scoop-driven newsroom — investigative journalism at its grittiest.

It’s taken me a while to finally get around to reading this series, despite buying The Ways of the Dead on the day of its UK release last year. Nevertheless, with the recent publication of Murder, D.C., I decided it was time to give it a try — and I’m really glad that I did. I read both of these novels back-to-back, and in a handful of blissful days of reading. Both of these novels are fantastic — brilliantly written, plotted and paced, they are easily two of the best crime novels I’ve read in quite a few years. Continue reading

Review: THE TARGET by David Baldacci (Macmillan/Grand Central)

Baldacci-WR3-TargetUKThe third Will Robie thriller sets him and Jessica Reel on a collision courts with the Hermit Kingdom…

The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment. If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel.

Together, Robie and Reel’s talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don’t trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.

As they prepare for their mission, Reel faces a personal crisis that could well lead old enemies right to her doorstep, resurrecting the ghosts of her earlier life and bringing stark danger to all those close to her. And all the while, Robie and Reel are stalked by a new adversary: an unknown and unlikely assassin, a woman who has trained her entire life to kill, and who has her own list of targets – a list that includes Will Robie and Jessica Reel.

The Target is another great addition to this relatively-new series from Baldacci. Taking the popular central character of government assassin, the author has managed to forge a somewhat original path. The novel is gripping, excellently-paced, and well-researched. As has become the norm with Baldacci’s novels, I really enjoyed reading this. Continue reading

Quick Reviews: BULLSEYE, THE INNOCENT, and THE HIT by David Baldacci (Macmillan/Grand Central)

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Two novels and a short story introducing a new hero from one of the modern masters of thriller fiction…

I really enjoyed all three of these stories. I also read them quite a while ago, in preparation for the release of The Target. I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to posting reviews of them sooner, but I wanted to mention them here. Because they’re excellent. I’ll keep things short, though… Continue reading

“House Odds” by Mike Lawson (Atlantic)

Lawson-08-HouseOddsThe Latest Joe DeMarco Political Thriller

Washington D.C. fixer Joe DeMarco has been asked to handle a lot of difficult situations over the years for his boss, congressman John Mahoney. But nothing has ever been quite so politically sensitive, or has hit so close to home, as the task Mahoney hands DeMarco now.

Mahoney’s daughter, Molly, has been arrested and charged with insider trading. An engineer with a high-flying technology firm, she allegedly placed a half-million dollar bet on one of the firm’s clients. DeMarco’s job is to clear Molly’s name and keep his boss clean. But how did Molly get her hands on so much money to invest in the first place? Before long, DeMarco uncovers that there’s far more to Molly’s case than meets the eye, and the risk to Mahoney is more than just a little political embarrassment.

In this eighth novel featuring Congressional fixer Joe DeMarco, we get a look at the sordid underbelly of Beltway politics, complete with manipulative gangsters and politicians, crooks and thieves. I’m a big fan of this series, ever since I read the first in the series, The Inside Ring in a single day. Each new novel has been an addictive, well-written and expertly-plotted thriller. House Odds is no exception.

The synopsis does a great job of providing all of the information you need, so I’m not going to go any deeper than that, and keep the review short. House Odds hooked me from the start, and yet kept me guessing until the end. Things do not play out at all as I expected, as DeMarco comes across a number of liars, conflicting agendas, hidden motives, and the desperation of a powerful family brought low. It’s a novel filled with grey, and very little black or white. Lawson isn’t afraid to let the muck stick to both his protagonists and antagonists, which makes this a very satisfying and more realistic read.

Throughout the novel, as DeMarco tries to first get to the bottom of what Molly allegedly did, to then trying to get her off the hook, he is left questioning who, in fact, are the good guys. The plot is winding, and perhaps more so than previous books in the series, as Lawson keeps us guessing. The first half deals with one mystery, and the second half another, as our hero is faced with a near-impossible job. Strange alliances will be forged, threats will be made, and leverage will be exercised. House Odds shows us just how dirty politics can be.

As with Lawson’s previous DeMarco novels, there’s plenty of good commentary on the American political system – especially the egos involved. In addition, his characters are well-rounded and realistic. The author’s prose is stripped down, streamlined, and well-composed. The plotting is excellent, too, and I blitzed through this.

I really can’t recommend this series enough. If you have any interest in thrillers set in and around the world of American politics, then Mike Lawson is a must read. House Odds is excellent. Very highly recommended.

Gore Vidal’s “Narratives of Empire” Series

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Has anyone read these? The series, Narratives of Empire is also sometimes known as The Chronicles of America. I’m really interested in reading them (American history and fiction = bound to attract my attention). Most of all, I’m interested in reading WASHINGTON, D.C. (mentioned in Mark Leibovich’s This Town, which I finished last night). Here’s the synopsis:

“History is gossip,” says a protagonist in Washington, D.C., “but the trick is determining which gossip is history.”

It is a trick that Gore Vidal has mastered in his ongoing chronicle of that circus of opportunism and hypocrisy called American politics and which he plays with renewed vigour in this expose of the nation’s capital.

Young Clay Overbury, Senator Burden Day’s assistant, has both a modest background and immense ambitions. Extremely handsome, oozing charm and seemingly dedicated to the Senator’s cause, he is also duplicitous, conniving, and disloyal. But Enid Canford doesn’t think so: she marries him, so providing the Sanford newspaper dynasty with a direct line to the Senator. Her father Blaise, at first loathing his son-in-law, later learns to love him – for all the wrong reasons.

So begins this tale of lust and ambition set in the Republic’s high noon. From the late 1930s to Jo McCarthy’s reign of terror, Gore Vidal charts the seamy, sleazy side of Washington. Mixing sober history with nakedly Gothic melodrama, he provides an intoxicating cocktail of blackmail, betrayal, sexual ambivalence, lunacy and conspiracy – or, in a word, politics.

The novels are apparently all connected, but I’m not sure how essential it is to read them all, or to read them in order. The seventh book, THE GOLDEN AGE, does feature characters from WASHINGTON D.C. and HOLLYWOOD, though.