Operation Large Scotch: O.L.S. by Bill Flockhart: Terrorists Attempt the Unthinkable


Operation Large Scotch: O.L.S.

Operation Large Scotch: O.L.S.

by Bill Flockhart

Kindle Edition, 331 pg.
2017

Read: January 21-23, 2019


Flockhart has given us a tale of horrible people doing horrible things in the name of various causes. There’s no attempt to minimize these acts, or is there any attempt by anyone to convince the reader that these groups are worthwhile. Just before (what we know as) the Good Friday Agreement is finalized, the 1972 Club (a reference to the Bloody Sunday massacre) sees their way of life and way of funding is at risk. They launch an ingenious and audacious (if troubling) effort to destabilize the British government while lining the Club’s bank accounts. Meanwhile, various intelligence services and armed services are at work, too, and showing a similar disregard for lives as the terrorists do.

Each group is convinced they’re in the right—at least they act as if they are. Flockhart doesn’t try to make any of the characters sympathetic, they aren’t charming ne’er-do-wells. They are soldiers, killers, and/or those who aid them. The reader is free to apply their own value to the actions taken by the characters. It’s uncommon for a writer to do this and a refreshing take.

I have to warn you, there is a rape scene/storyline that many of readers of The Irresponsible Reader will find offensive (all of the writers of The Irresponsible Reader did). I don’t take the position that rape is an unmentionable subject in fiction–but there’s a way to use it to depict reality and depravity responsibly, and Flockhart fails at this.

I feel bad about saying this, but if Brian May played a concert out of tune, someone should say it. In that vein, more often than not, Flockhart doesn’t use commas where he needs them. It’s distracting and detracts from the text (or I wouldn’t say anything). Similarly, his dialogue reads like the script from a drama from The Golden Age of Radio. which does create problems for the reader.

Ultimately, the technical problems were too much for me to overcome, and while Flockhart’s approach to the subject was atypical and fresh, it didn’t win me over. I can see where many readers would see the appeal to it (and many have). For readers who appreciate a bare-bones style and frank discussion of the acts of these various groups and how they attempt to achieve their ends, Operation Large Scotch: O.L.S. should prove to be a bracing and compelling read.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb: High Stakes Danger for Lori Anderson in the Windy City

Deep Dark Night

Deep Dark Night

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #4

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2020

Read: January 16-17, 2020
Grab a Steph Broadribb book from your local indie bookstore!

I’ve always felt an element of fear about the jobs I do. In the right dosage it can help you. It gets your adrenaline firing, makes you think clearer, faster—gets you alert and ready to tackle anything that comes your way. But if the fear builds too much, all that good stuff swings things around; the nerves make you hesitant, jumpy and too cautious. That’s when you start making mistakes. And mistakes, in my world, can be fatal.

After barely getting to take a breath following the events of Deep Dirty Truth, Lori finally gets the chance to work off her debt to FBI Agent Monroe. This puts Lori and JT in Chicago trying to get the mobster Cabressa to take possession of some stolen goods. Once that’s done, a series of dominoes will fall and Monroe will be able to put him away for a very long time.

So he insists, anyway.

Step one involves Lori getting an invite to an incredibly exclusive Poker game, Step two involves giving her a crash course in playing Poker so she seems mostly credible in the game. (this isn’t presented as a comedic segment, but I chuckled at this part of the book—also, I’m jealous, I wish I could learn how to play like this).

Now, every thriller reader knows what will happen next—no plan, no matter how thorough, how well-thought-out no matter who’s involved, will work. If for no other reason than it would produce a dull novel. But also, every thriller reader has heard the line, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” and knows it to be true. The questions that need to be answered are: how badly will the plan go awry? and How will Lori and JT react to it?

So let me assure you, when this plan is derailed, it’s derailed in a spectacular fashion, providing a lot of danger for our heroes, peril for those around them, and more than enough tension to satisfy a hungry reader. Lori and JT respond appropriately, not perfectly (which would be boring), but they display the stamina, resourcefulness, and tenacity we’ve come to expect from them.

The poker game collected quite the interesting mix of players—sports figures, politicians, as well as shady characters like Cabressa. When things go wrong during the game, it opens things up for a lot of drama and conflicting interests causing trouble for all involved. Suddenly, Lori and JT can’t focus solely on getting Cabressa to fall into Monroe’s trap—they have to worry about survival—their own, and as many others that they can help. Sure, Cabressa is still their target, but there’s a lot they have to go through before they can make him a priority.

I’m not going to get more in-depth than that, I’ll leave it there and say there’s more than enough going on plot-wise to fuel a book at least half again as long as this one. Broadribb has stacked the deck against the pair and it’s great to watch them try to navigate the situation.

The game takes place at the top of a pretty high building in Chicago and the action centers around that location, stories above the ground. In the real world, I’m pretty acrophobic—and occasionally (okay, more than occasionally), a movie can get me to feel the anxiety that heights can bring out in me. I don’t remember ever feeling symptoms while reading a book, but I did here. It’s not like Broadribb focused all that much on the height and risk of falling (it was there, but she didn’t belabor the point), but something about the way that she told the story, flicked that particular switch in my brain. There’s something very disconcerting about sitting in a comfortable seat (on the ground level like a sane person) but feeling like I was standing in a precarious* location several feet off the ground. I’m not promising that anyone else will experience what I did, I assume the rest of humanity is a bit better adjusted than I am, but for me that was an unexpected “bonus” to the book.

* Yeah, fine, my definition of a precarious location applies to perfectly safe—even benign—spots.

I’m a little worried about the long-term health of Lori’s elbows. She uses them so often as weapons, she probably heads back to Florida with at least one of them horribly bruised. I don’t remember this being the case in the previous novels, maybe I just forgot—or maybe she’s just relying on the technique in these circumstances (I remember more than once the narration in a Jack Reacher novel talking about the usefulness of that tactic compared to the use of a fist).

As far as long-term character development goes, Lori and JT start a conversation they’ve needed to have since, well, since we met the two of them about Dakota and why Lori didn’t tell JT about her before she did. This will prove helpful in the future and provide the opportunity for the relationship to grow and change. The two of them have some sort of plan going forward about their careers and daughter, but we’re going to have to come back to find out what they have in mind. Seeing these two deal with each other and their daughter is almost as rewarding to me as the action-hero kind of thing is, and Broadribb’s featuring both sides of Lori like this is a real strength of the series.

For my money, this is the best of the series—she’s got a real handle on these characters by now and knows just how to put them through the wringer in a way that provides real tension and thrills. I got more wrapped up in this than I expected to (and I had pretty high expectations at this point in the series), and it was absolutely worth it. Book five cannot arrive soon enough for me.

If you haven’t met this bounty hunter yet, you need to—either in the pages of this book or the beginning, either would work (but you might as well just buy the set all at once, you won’t be satisfied until you read them all). Deep Dark Night will win Broadribb some new fans and confirm those readers already along for the ride.


4 1/2 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Clearing the Deck: Tweet-length thoughts about books I can’t find time to write about

Yeah, I have a daunting TBR stack, but I also have too many books on my “Too Write About” pile, and it’s bugging me. So, I’m cutting myself some slack, and am clearing the deck of everything from 2019 and before that I haven’t made time for. This was painful to do, I was looking forward to writing about most of these, but I’m just not going to get to them–and the 2020 books are starting to pile up, too. So, in 144 characters or less, here’s me cutting myself some slack.

(Click on the cover for an official site with more info)

Rivers of London: Detective Stories
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London, Volume 4: Detective Stories by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
Brief flashbacks showing what Peter et al. get up to between novels/comic series. A fun idea, well executed. Would enjoy another one like this.
Cry Fox
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London Volume 5: Cry Fox by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
This was a lot of fun, and showed a new side of a cool recurring character.
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance
3 Stars
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Brian Williamson, Stefani Renne
A serial killer hunt and Nightingale backstory. Great combo.

(some nice Molly material, too)

Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian
4 Stars
Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian by Danny E. Olinger
A biography and a discussion of his Vos’ major works. This was an excellent way to gear up for my 2019 Vos reading. Inspirational stuff.
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant
3 Stars
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A light Urban Fantasy about misfit monsters. Enjoyable enough to come back for more.
Open Season
4 Stars
Open Season by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Series Debut about a WY Game Warden with a nose for mystery. Loved the dual POVs (Pickett, his daughter). Addicting.
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain
3 Stars
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
A cute story about kids of super-heroes/super-villains trying to get started in the biz without their parents’ involvement. Went on longer than it needed to, but fun enough to try volume 2.
Dragon Blood
3 Stars
Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
Manganiello is a great choice for narrator. Nice little stand-alone fantasy story. Great dragons.
Savage Run
3.5 Stars
Savage Run by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Almost as good as the first Pickett novel. Mrs. Pickett gets to shine here, too. I’m so glad I finally got to this series.
Inkheart
3 Stars
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, Lynn Redgrave (Narrator)
Gets a bit redundant, but I loved the concept. Better than the movie (which I kind of liked), but still could’ve been better.
Undeath and Taxes
3 Stars
Undeath and Taxes by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A little better than the first volume, an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
Dragon Bones
3 Stars
Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
OK, so Dragon Bones wasn’t a stand-alone. Could’ve been, but it was nice to get a little more with these characters/this world. Still, give me a Briggs Urban Fantasy above this.
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards
4 Stars
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards by Alan D. Strange
I love this series. Strange packs so much material into this tiny package. Excellent stuff.
Badlands
3 Stars
Badlands by C. J. Box, January LaVoy (Narrator)
Cassie takes over The Highway series and moves to a new Oil Town in North Dakota. Midwest Winter, Drugs, Murder, Corruption and Too Much Money wreak havoc on her first week on the job.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (Audiobook)
3.5 Stars
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt (Audiobook)
The memoir chapters are nice, the comedic bits are odd (and funny). An interesting look at Oswalt.
No Sweat
3 Stars
No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar, Ph.D.
A great way to look at keeping (or getting) yourself motivated to exercise.

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad—most were really good and worth the time (sure, a handful should be missed, but let’s forget about them). But these are the crème de la crème.

Not all of these were published in 2019—but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

I should say that I was a little worn out by the time I composed a lot of this and ended up borrowing heavily from my original posts. Hope you don’t mind reruns.
(in alphabetical order by author)

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb

My original post
Lori is kidnapped by the same Mob that wants her dead, giving her basically two choices—do a job for them or else they’re coming for JT and Dakota. Nothing about this book went the way I expected (beginning with the premise), it was all better than that. I had a hard time writing anything about this book that I hadn’t said about the first two in the series. Broadribb’s series about this tough, gritty bounty hunter (who is not close to perfect, but she’s persistent, which is easier to believe) started off strong and remains so.

4 Stars

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh

My original post
One of the best serial killer antagonists I can remember reading. A breakneck pace. An intricately plotted novel. An already beloved protagonist. Genuine surprises, shocking twists, and a couple of outstanding reveals make this fourth Eddie Flynn novel a must-read (even if you haven’t read any previous installments).

5 Stars

Black SummerBlack Summer

by M. W. Craven

My original post
It’s hard to avoid hyperbole in a Best-Of post like this, it’s harder still when talking about this book. But I just did some math, and Black Summer is in the top 1% of everything I read last year—the writing, the plot, the pacing, the tension, the protagonists, the villain(s), the supporting characters are as close to perfect as you’re going to find. The first note I made about this book was, I’m “glad Craven gave us all of zero pages to get comfy before getting all morbid and creepifying.” It’s pretty relentless from there—right up until the last interview, which might elicit a chuckle or two from a reader enjoying watching a brilliant criminal get outsmarted. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s so much fun to read.

5 Stars

An Accidental DeathAn Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)

My original post
Grainger’s DC Smith couldn’t be more different than Craven’s DS Poe if he tried, and these two books feel so different that it seems strange to talk about them at the same time. What’s the same? How easily they get the reader invested in their protagonists. How easily they get you plunged into their world and caring about what they care about. Grainger has a nice, subtle style (with even subtler humor) that made this novel sheer pleasure to read (well, listen to, in this case).

4 Stars

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten

My original post
When I was about halfway through this novel, I wrote, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel…Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate—like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.” This is not an easy read thanks to the characters and circumstances, later I wrote, “This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer—rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing—a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.” I can’t put it better than that.

5 Stars

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen

My original post
I heard someone describe this as Laukkanen writing fan-fic about his dog Lucy. Which is funny, and pretty much true. From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades—you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability—and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel.

4 Stars

HackedHacked

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
Duncan MacMaster is a new (for me) go-to author if I need someone to break me out of a gloomy mood because of books like this. Clever, well-plotted, and filled with more laughs than some “Humor” books I read this year. It also features what’s probably the best secondary character from 2019. Take out the humor (for the sake of argument here, don’t you dare do that really) and this is still a smartly-plotted and well-executed mystery novel. Adding in the humor makes this a must-read.

4 1/2 Stars

The ChainThe Chain

by Adrian McKinty

My original post
There was enough hype around this that I can see where some of my blogger acquaintances were let down with the reality. But McKinty’s breakout novel absolutely worked for me. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. Winslow calls it “Jaws for parents.” He’s right—I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

4 1/2 Stars

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan

My original post
This is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. The mystery part of this book is just what you want—it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic—I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. But afterward you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course—what else could it have been?” And then you read the motivation behind the killing—and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this. This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more.

5 Stars

The Power of the Dog The CartelThe Power of the Dog / The Cartel

by Don Winslow

My original post about The Power of the Dog, The Cartel should be up soon.
There’s simply no way I can talk about one of these without the other, so I won’t. This is a fantastic story about a DEA Agent’s obsessive drive to take down one of the most powerful, deadly and successful Mexican Drug Cartels around, as well as a devastating indictment of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, these are not difficult reads. Despite the horrors depicted, they’re not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there’s a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. They’re not easy, breezy reads— but they’re very approachable. I don’t know if there’s a moment that reads as fiction, either—if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be “Literature,” or that he elevates his work or anything—but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of the attention of “serious” readers.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight, Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice, Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, Going Dark/Going Rogue by Niel Lancaster (can’t pick between the two), You Die Next by Stephanie Marland, The Killing State by Judith O’Reilly, Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry, Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, Paper Son by S. J. Rozan, and How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer.

Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich: A local rock star with ambition, a shoplifter, and a mysterious deli fill Stephanie Plum’s 25th novel.

Look Alive Twenty-Five

Look Alive Twenty-Five

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #25

Mass Market Paperback, 306 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: December 25, 2019


Someone that Vincent Plum Bail Bonds had put up the bail for skipped town, and he’d put up his deli as collateral. Vincent’s father-in-law (the owner of the Bail Bonds) has decided he wants to diversify, so he’s hanging onto it. The catch is, the last several managers have disappeared while working. So Vinnie’s decided that 1. Stephanie is the new manager; 2. She needs to find out what’s going on to get the other manager’s kidnapped/killed/whatever; 3. She can take care of her bond enforcement job during the off hours.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. Stephanie’s running a strange little deli with Lulu as the assistant manager/sandwich guru. There are three other employees there who really know what they’re doing (mostly doing drugs while toiling away at a minimum wage job). Hijinks ensue—her car is stolen, she tracks down a couple of skips, she looks into the disappearances (with help from Joe Morelli and Ranger), and things get weird at the deli (particularly due to Lulu, who becomes a social media sensation of the moment).

I must say that Stephanie seems more competent at this gig than a lot of the other jobs she’s held over the course of this series—either in an undercover assignment or because she was trying to do something other than bond enforcement. If it wasn’t for the distraction of the investigation (and Lulu), she probably could’ve made a decent go of it and changed the series for good. It was pleasant to see her not horrible at something.

We get a little bit of another of Stephanie’s supernatural acquaintances, Gerwulf Grimoire (Wulf), here, but in such a small amount that I’m really not sure why Evanovich bothered. That said, if she was determined to use Wulf, this is precisely as much as she should.

I still don’t get what Stephanie sees in Joe, or what Ranger sees in Stephanie, or why Joe or Ranger let this stupid triangle continue. But I’m at peace with that—I’ll never get it, and Evanovich will never change it, why fight it?

If this had been part of any other story, I’d say the solution stretches credulity too far. But as it’s a Plum novel, I really don’t think I can. Honestly, it was only as I was gathering wool a couple of days later that I gave it any thought.

One last thing: I’d read the blurb for Twisted Twenty-Six a few weeks earlier, and was looking forward to reading it more than I have since the mid-teens (I’m guessing). So, it turns out that I was already primed for the near cliff-hanger last couple of pages. I don’t feel too bad saying that because it really doesn’t have much to do with this novel (although events in it do tie-in), but it’s something I have to talk about because I don’t remember Evanovich doing this in the previous twenty-four novels.* Evanovich doing anything new at this point is something to note and celebrate.

* Feel free to correct me in the comments.

This wasn’t anything special, but there wasn’t anything annoying about it, either. Which sets it apart from the last handful. Evanovich ticked all the boxes she needed to; got Stephanie into a new situation and had her handle it in a non-disastrous way; and capped the book off with something new. I can’t imagine Evanovich will return to the comedic heights of the early series—and I imagine even less that she feels any compulsion to do so. I just hope for a reliable level of moderate entertainment, and that’s what she delivered. It’s a decent time, but if you’re new to Plum—go back to One for the Money and immerse yourself in the first dozen or so of these before taking the plunge into the higher numbers.


3 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Why Book Bloggers Blog… #Hug/FistBumpABookBloggerToday #SupportYourLocalBookNerd

“There’s a bookstore here somewhere,” Lula said. “I’ve never been in it, but I saw it advertised. Maybe she would like a book.”

“She has four kids,” I said. “She hasn’t got time to read.”

“That’s a shame,” Lula said. “Everyone should read.”

“Do you read?”

“No. But I think about it sometimes. Problem is, I go to a bookstore and there’s so many books I get confused. So, I get coffee. I know what I’m doing when I order a coffee.”

—Janet Evanovich
from Look Alive Twenty-Five

Hacked by Duncan MacMaster: A Smart, Fun Sequel that Topped the One that Went Before

Hacked

Hacked

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Jake Mooney, #2

Paperback, 258 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2019

Read: December 10-11, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“You’re a very different kind of man Jake Mooney,” she said. “It’s almost like you belong here, but don’t belong here.”

“How is that?”

“Your life is like a movie,” she said, “and I think the last thing you want is to live your life like that.” …

“This is my second go-round for this sort of thing,” I said, “and the problem with sequels is that they always have to top the one that went before them.”

I remember really enjoying Hack, our introduction to Jake Mooney. But, I didn’t remember exactly why I did (I guess I could’ve read my post about it, but that sounds too much like research). It took almost no time at all to remember once I dipped into this Hacked (and many of the details about Hack came back to me straight away, too). Hack had a strong voice, fun characters, a clever mystery, with a satisfying conclusion to wrap things up. Hacked gives us more of all that.

For those of you who haven’t met Jake Moody, he’s a former journalist turned ghostwriter. Two years before this novel, he rose to fame by solving multiple homicides. He then finished ghostwriting the autobiography of one of the murder victims. He then writes his own account of what transpired (see Hack for details), as well as a fantasy novel. Now he’s been talked into coming to LA to sell the movie rights to any/all of his books.

Before his days of ghostwriting, Jake lived in LA and still has plenty of friends there and touches base with a couple of them. One of the things everyone is talking about there is the hacking of a movie company and the release of private date from them—supposedly, this is a North Korean retaliation for the portrayal of Kim Jong Un in one of that studio’s movies. A legendary agent who Jake knew years ago inadvertently puts Jake in the middle of the investigation. Not long after that, a P.I. friend of his asks him to consult on the same topic.

When Jake arrives at his friend’s home, however, he finds his friend brutally murdered. The assumption has to be that the people behind the hack are the people who killed his friend. So while he really is content to leave the investigation into the hack to the proper authorities, seeing his friend’s body sets Jake inexorably into finding out who committed the murder (and the hack while he’s at it).

Jake’s assisted in this hunt by his agent friend, his new agent, an accountant turned security guard, a former FBI agent, a ride-share driver who’s always wanted to be up to escapades like this, and an attractive studio exec. Help comes from other directions, too, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you.

It’s not long before someone tries to kill Jake, he’s kidnapped more than once, assaulted, and . . . you know what? You wouldn’t believe me if I listed all that happens to this poor writer (also, why ruin the surprise?)—I couldn’t help imagining MacMaster asking himself, “What else can I do to Jake? A tiger attack? Nah, not sure how to get him in the cage, but I do know how to ….”

The LAPD is eager to pin all of the death and destruction on Jake, but the more they press him, the more adamant he becomes that he won’t leave. Given the strong cloud of suspicion that North Korea is behind the hack, and presumably the murder of his friend, the FBI is involved, too. They’re less inclined to suspect Jake of having anything to do with the murder, but they’d like him away from the case.

There are more than the requisite number of twists and turns to this case, none of them feels forced or gratuitous. And even when you’re faster at putting the pieces together than Jake is, you should probably take a beat before criticizing him, because you’re probably not as right as you think you are.

The tone is what separates this from similar mysteries. This is not a comedy —there’s a brutal murder, including signs of torture to start things off. There are threats of violence, actual violence, and more deaths to come. But the way that MacMaster tells it makes it become one of the funniest and most enjoyable reads of the year. Think Marshall Karp’s Lomax and Biggs Mysteries for tone. That’s probably not the most helpful comparison, come to think of it, because I’m not sure how many people are familiar with them (too few for sure). Okay, think of this as a Shane Black story—just a novel instead of a script, and there’s no tie to Christmas. MacMaster’s Kirby Baxter books are more overtly comical than his Jake Mooney books, but both are just flat-out entertaining and laugh-filled.

Typically, in books/TV/movies, Hollywood Agents are not depicted sympathetically. Which is probably a bit of an understatement, really. But Jake’s old friend and new agent are both depicted as decent people that he can rely on. That’s not really a plus or a minus when it comes to evaluating, but it’s so strange that I felt compelled to mention it. I can’t remember another fictional Agent who wasn’t some sort of duplicitous, manipulative, weasel.

The story, Jake and the other characters, the fun had a Hollywood’s expense, the twists, etc. would’ve been good enough to make me rave. But there’s a Chinese gentleman that plays a big role in the novel—I don’t want to say much about him, because you just have to meet him yourself. He pops up repeatedly throughout the novel, yet we really don’t spend that much time with him altogether. But he steals every scene he’s in. He’s one of my favorite new characters of 2019. If there’s a Hacked Again or Hack Harder or whatever, I hope MacMaster can come up with an excuse to use him again.

I just had so much fun with this one (a common theme when it comes to MacMaster)—I can’t think of a single reason why someone shouldn’t read this (you don’t have to read Hack first, by the way). Jake was right in what he said before, the problem with sequels is that they have to top the one that went before. Hacked easily does that. It’s smartly-written, cleverly-plotted and just fun to read. Go run and grab it!


4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.