House on Fire by Joseph Finder: Out for Vengeance, Heller Takes on a Pharmaceutical Giant

House on Fire

House on Fire

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #4

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Dutton, 2020

Read: February 7-10, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

I should have checked in with Patty weeks ago. I guess I was figuring that if [Sean] was back on drugs, she’d let me know. I obviously figured wrong. I was angry at myself for not staying more closely in touch.

He saved my life once; I should have been able to save his.

When you get right down to it, readers don’t know that much about Nick Heller at this point—it’s not that kind of series. One benefit of this is that it’s super-easy for Finder to drop in a character or two and say they’re an important part of Heller’s life without having to tweak their backstory a lot.

Sean and Heller served together, Sean came back with traumatic brain injury and, like so many, was given opioids to help. Like too many, he became addicted and battled that addiction for years. Ultimately, the opioids won. (this isn’t me spoiling anything, it’s the first few pages. I think it’s even on the cover).

While Heller does what he can to help the widow and her kids (his honorary nephews), he takes on a new client. At the funeral, he meets a member of the Kimball family—they own the company that makes the brand of opioids that destroyed Sean’s life. She tells Heller that she attends as many such funerals as she can, in sort of an act of protest. She wants Heller to break into her father’s records to find an old study that shows the company knew how addictive their drug was and released it anyway while covering up the study.

A chance to make some money, a chance to do some good—but more than that, a chance to take down the company that hooked Sean*? You bet our favorite private spy is going to go for that. He’s barely started the job when he runs into someone else looking into the family—another important character from Heller’s past, someone who worked with him in the Pentagon.

* Sure, another company’s product probably would’ve done the same thing to Sean, but Kimball Pharmaceutical held this particular gun.

From there, things get complicated and twisty—involving corporate shenanigans, international twists, family intrigue and big secrets tied to big money. All of which combine to make this a precarious situation for Heller. But Sean saved his life once, so…

I shouldn’t forget to add that there’s something going on with Heller’s actual nephew and Heller’s imprisoned father. I was glad to see the nephew again and would like to see more of him. His father? Well, he was useful to Nick, but man, I could go years without having to put up with him (which I think is the reaction Finder’s going for…if not, it should be because he nails it).

She tilted her head and smiled. “You went after this bomber?”

I nodded.

“Yes, of course you did,” she said. “You are sheepdog.”

“I’m a Sheepdog,” I said dubiously.

“I read somewhere there are three kinds people—is sheep, is wolves, and is sheepdog. Most people sheep—just kind and gentle people. They never hurt others, except by accident. Then there is predators—the wolves. They prey on weak people. They feed on sheep. These are the bad people.”

“Okay.”

“And then is Sheepdogs. They protect flock. They have drive to do this. They have gift of aggression.”

I nodded.

She said, “You are not sheep. You are not wolf. You are sheepdog. You are guard dog, not attack dog.”

This is why we like Heller, because Natalya (soon to be trophy wife about to marry into the Kimball family) here sums it up nicely—he has the drive to protect, and the aggression to do it. We see that on display in all sorts of ways in this book (and in the previous ones). If he was all about attack and aggression, he still might be fun to read about, but readers only get invested in him because of that drive to protect.

The other reason we latch on to Heller (I think, maybe it’s just me) is that he’s fallible. He’ll have a perfect plan that he’s executing well, but because that’s the way that life goes, something happens to totally derail the plan. And, unlike other thriller heroes, when things go wrong for Heller, he has to scramble to stay alive and to find a way to get the results he’s looking for—and doesn’t always succeed at that.

House on Fire has plenty of good action, a lot of excuses for Finder to make points about the opioid crisis—and our reactions to it—(and I appreciated him taking those opportunities), some good Heller backstory, plus a few satisfying twists. This was a good, solid read.

I do think the ending was a bit too abrupt and Finder didn’t wrap up everything as satisfactorily as I’m used to from him. So I didn’t rate this as highly as I would’ve expected. Still, I’m glad I read it and can’t imagine a Heller/Finder/thriller fan won’t enjoy this read. And I’ll be first in line for Nick Heller #5 in a couple of years.


3.5 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge
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Reposting Just Cuz: Guilty Minds by Joseph Finder

My plan for today was to post about the new Nick Heller novel: House on Fire by Joseph Finder. But one thing led to another, and . . . well, that just didn’t happen (and I’m not sure when it will). Instead, I’ll be revisiting my posts about the first three in this thriller series. The first two have already been posted, and here’s the third.


Guilty MindsGuilty Minds

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #3

eARC, 400 pg.
Dutton, 2016

Read: June 1-2, 2016

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones:
               – Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene ii

Everyone’s favorite private spy, Nick Heller, is back. This Jack Reacher with a budget gets hired to head off a scandal that may threaten the career of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He’s not hired by the Justice, of course, but by a powerful friend. Washington, D.C. being Washington, D. C. not only does the Justice have powerful friends, he has powerful enemies. Heller assumes that they’re behind the scandal breaking on the gossip website, and sets his sites on not only stopping them but exposing them.

There’s more going on than even someone with Heller’s instincts expect — what seems like a pretty routine case (with high stakes) turns into something with life or death stakes. Not shocking, it’s why we read these things.

I love the way that Heller’s mind works — watching him prepare (even quickly) to break into an apartment, or take out a group of kidnappers is one of the highlights of these books. What’s even better is that his hacker can’t do everything. His buddies/colleagues make blunders. What’s more, Heller makes mistakes — errors in judgement, letting personal biases get in the way, bad assumptions. Sure, Heller’s super-human (it’s why we read him), but he’s not perfect. It’s his reaction to the mistakes, his recalculations, his new plans that separate Heller from a lot of these characters who are a little more perfect.

There’s a twist or two, people who aren’t what they seem (in good and bad ways for Heller), and some solid fight scenes (with and without weapons). Pretty much just what you want in a thriller. I’m not sure that I’m crazy about the resolution or the epilogue, but I don’t mind them and honestly I can’t think of a better way for things to play out (and before that, I had just that one complaint). So, I guess a great 380 or so pages, followed by a decent 20.

It took less than a page or two (hard to tell on my screen) to remember what I liked about the style of this series, Heller’s voice, and his crew (although this book relied less on his regular supporting cast than the previous two). If I quoted every snappy line from the first chapter, you’d stop reading this post as tl;dr (and the publisher would come after me) — and things got better from there. Great internal dialogue. Finder writes lean prose without an inch of fat, but it’s not dry, not lacking anything — it’s full of personality and intelligence. There was one thread that seemed pretty important that Finder just abandoned, which is odd for him. Still, anytime you get an action hero quipping about coffee, I’m going to pay attention.

I had coffee. I took one sip and put it down. It tasted like something brewed by someone who disapproved of coffee.

I appreciated the observation about airport/tarmac security, and just with that Heller had spent more time with that. Maybe in the fourth book?

Smooth prose, good action, well-paced, and just a fun story. A real pleasure to read from beginning to end.

I received this book from Net Galley in return for the above thoughts. Thanks to Net Galley and Dutton for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotation above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can next month.

—–

4 Stars

Reposting Just Cuz: Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder

My plan for today was to post about the new Nick Heller novel: House on Fire by Joseph Finder. But one thing led to another, and . . . well, that just didn’t happen (and I’m not sure when it will). Instead, I’ll be revisiting my posts about the first three in this thriller series. This is the second in the series, so the first has already been posted, and the next is on the way, but first: Buried Secrets


Buried SecretsBuried Secrets

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #2

Hardcover, 386 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2011
Read: April 13, 2015

Private Spy, Private Investigator, Private Vengeance-Taker, whatever you want to call him, Nick Heller one of the best — he’s tough, he’s resourceful, troubled kids like him and he quotes The Punisher. Who doesn’t love that?

Heller’s relocated himself, his computer wiz, and his nephew to Boston since we saw him last, setting up shop marketing his peculiar trade. True to form, he’s pretty picky about who he accepts as a client, but there is one who he can’t turn away. Marshall Marcus, the richest man in Boston, was a lifeline for Heller’s mother after his father’s prison sentence was handed down. Now he needs a lifeline — actually, his 17 year old daughter does. She’s been kidnapped and will be executed if her father doesn’t give the men responsible exactly what they want.

The kidnapping itself, and the way Alexa is being held captive aren’t that novel — most readers who’ve watched a police procedural or two in the last few years will have seen one or two scenarios like it. But Finder does make it distinctive by making the man holding her into a particularly sick and evil man. Thankfully, we don’t spend so much time with Dragomir that the reader sympathizes with him, or starts to like him (à la Dr. Lecter). What he’s doing to Alexa is just wrong — as is pretty much everything that has led up to this point in his life.

Nick’s not just up against this twisted man — and those behind him — he also has to contend with a client who continually lies to him, an FBI official that seems to be blocking his efforts, and more than one person who isn’t who they say they are. Thankfully, he has Dorothy, his old military friends, international intelligence contacts, and a different FBI agent backing him.

There’s less action (as defined by explosions, gunplay, fights, etc.) than in Vanished, but it’s more suspenseful. In Vanished, it wasn’t until the closing pages that you had any idea what was happening with the victim — but here, there’s never any doubt about what’s going on with her, and what’s going to happen to her if Nick doesn’t put the pieces together. Soon. Which isn’t to say it’s all-thriller-all-the-time, there’s moments where Nick and the reader catch their breath. Even a couple moments of levity (Nick’s narrative voice helps a lot on that front) — his observation, “Veganism is apparently the paramilitary wing of vegetarianism” helped set the tone. Dorothy’s eventual use of the word “Pepsi” to close a chapter made me chuckle audibly (you’ll get it when you read this).

I should probably add that this book includes one of the grosser character deaths I’ve read in the last couple of years. Didn’t bother me much, he had it coming.

We get to see a bit more of Nick’s life and backstory this time. He’s a better-rounded character now. It’d have been easy to see him as a workaholic who had no contact with anyone outside of work and his nephew before. But that’s clearly not the case now. There’s not much more to him — but there used to be, and getting that glimpse helps you care a bit.

It’s taught, it’s a page turner, it’s a “I can always sleep later” kind of read. Man, oh man, I hope Finder has at least one other Heller adventure up his sleeve.
4 Stars

Reposting Just Cuz: Vanished by Joseph Finder

My plan for today was to post about the new Nick Heller novel: House on Fire by Joseph Finder. But one thing led to another, and . . . well, that just didn’t happen (and I’m not sure when it will). Instead, I’ll be revisiting my posts about the first three in this thriller series. The next two will follow soon.


VanishedVanished

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #1


Hardcover, 384 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Read: April 7 – 8, 2015

I lost sleep over this one. Literally. I had to force myself to put this thing down so I could get a little shut-eye. Which wasn’t easy. After about 70 pages or so, I realized two things very clearly: I was hooked on this book and was going to have to get the next one in the series very soon. Neither feeling went away.

Last year, when I read FaceOff, the Jack Reacher/Nick Heller story was probably my favorite, so when I found myself wandering the library last week, with every thing on my “to get list” unavailable, I figured I’d finally give a full-length Heller story a try. Clearly, one of the better moves I’ve made.

Nick Heller is former Army Special Ops, turned corporate espionage hotshot. His estranged brother, Roger, is abducted (at best) leaving an injured wife behind. His nephew, Gabe, freaks out and calls his uncle for help, not willing to trust the police. So Nick, with “a very particular set of skills,” starts looking for his brother.

Heller’s similar to Reacher, but has more of a cerebral approach to things. I’m not sure that’s necessarily fair, maybe it’s that he takes a less direct approach to Reacher’s bull in a china shop approach. That’s not quite it, either. There’s something similar, yet very distinctive about their approaches. It’s more than just the fact that Heller has money and resources (and friends and family . . . ), while Reacher has a fresh set of clothes, a new toothbrush and whatever weapon he can take off a foe. Heller definitely has a better sense of humor — and a cell phone, maybe that’s it.

Heller definitely has to work — suffers some real investigative setbacks, is flat-out wrong on several fronts, blunders a bit, and has to go through some real emotional hardship. Making him human enough to really engage the reader (in a way that Reacher never can — not that I want to keep comparing the two).

Well paced, intelligent, some cool spycraft, some good fight scenes and a lot less gunplay than you’d expect — this is a thriller well worth your time.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Guilty Minds by Joseph Finder

Guilty MindsGuilty Minds

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #3eARC, 400 pg.
Dutton, 2016
Read: June 1-2, 2016

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones:
Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene ii

Everyone’s favorite private spy, Nick Heller, is back. This Jack Reacher with a budget gets hired to head off a scandal that may threaten the career of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He’s not hired by the Justice, of course, but by a powerful friend. Washington, D.C. being Washington, D. C. not only does the Justice have powerful friends, he has powerful enemies. Heller assumes that they’re behind the scandal breaking on the gossip website, and sets his sites on not only stopping them but exposing them.

There’s more going on than even someone with Heller’s instincts expect — what seems like a pretty routine case (with high stakes) turns into something with life or death stakes. Not shocking, it’s why we read these things.

I love the way that Heller’s mind works — watching him prepare (even quickly) to break into an apartment, or take out a group of kidnappers is one of the highlights of these books. What’s even better is that his hacker can’t do everything. His buddies/colleagues make blunders. What’s more, Heller makes mistakes — errors in judgement, letting personal biases get in the way, bad assumptions. Sure, Heller’s super-human (it’s why we read him), but he’s not perfect. It’s his reaction to the mistakes, his recalculations, his new plans that separate Heller from a lot of these characters who are a little more perfect.

There’s a twist or two, people who aren’t what they seem (in good and bad ways for Heller), and some solid fight scenes (with and without weapons). Pretty much just what you want in a thriller. I’m not sure that I’m crazy about the resolution or the epilogue, but I don’t mind them and honestly I can’t think of a better way for things to play out (and before that, I had just that one complaint). So, I guess a great 380 or so pages, followed by a decent 20.

It took less than a page or two (hard to tell on my screen) to remember what I liked about the style of this series, Heller’s voice, and his crew (although this book relied less on his regular supporting cast than the previous two). If I quoted every snappy line from the first chapter, you’d stop reading this post as tl;dr (and the publisher would come after me) — and things got better from there. Great internal dialogue. Finder writes lean prose without an inch of fat, but it’s not dry, not lacking anything — it’s full of personality and intelligence. There was one thread that seemed pretty important that Finder just abandoned, which is odd for him. Still, anytime you get an action hero quipping about coffee, I’m going to pay attention.

I had coffee. I took one sip and put it down. It tasted like something brewed by someone who disapproved of coffee.

I appreciated the observation about airport/tarmac security, and just with that Heller had spent more time with that. Maybe in the fourth book?

Smooth prose, good action, well-paced, and just a fun story. A real pleasure to read from beginning to end.

I received this book from Net Galley in return for the above thoughts. Thanks to Net Galley and Dutton for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotation above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can next month.

—–

4 Stars

Guilty Minds by Joseph Finder

Guilty MindsGuilty Minds

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #3

eARC, 400 pg.
Dutton, 2016

Read: June 1-2, 2016

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones:
               – Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene ii

Everyone’s favorite private spy, Nick Heller, is back. This Jack Reacher with a budget gets hired to head off a scandal that may threaten the career of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He’s not hired by the Justice, of course, but by a powerful friend. Washington, D.C. being Washington, D. C. not only does the Justice have powerful friends, he has powerful enemies. Heller assumes that they’re behind the scandal breaking on the gossip website, and sets his sites on not only stopping them but exposing them.

There’s more going on than even someone with Heller’s instincts expect — what seems like a pretty routine case (with high stakes) turns into something with life or death stakes. Not shocking, it’s why we read these things.

I love the way that Heller’s mind works — watching him prepare (even quickly) to break into an apartment, or take out a group of kidnappers is one of the highlights of these books. What’s even better is that his hacker can’t do everything. His buddies/colleagues make blunders. What’s more, Heller makes mistakes — errors in judgement, letting personal biases get in the way, bad assumptions. Sure, Heller’s super-human (it’s why we read him), but he’s not perfect. It’s his reaction to the mistakes, his recalculations, his new plans that separate Heller from a lot of these characters who are a little more perfect.

There’s a twist or two, people who aren’t what they seem (in good and bad ways for Heller), and some solid fight scenes (with and without weapons). Pretty much just what you want in a thriller. I’m not sure that I’m crazy about the resolution or the epilogue, but I don’t mind them and honestly I can’t think of a better way for things to play out (and before that, I had just that one complaint). So, I guess a great 380 or so pages, followed by a decent 20.

It took less than a page or two (hard to tell on my screen) to remember what I liked about the style of this series, Heller’s voice, and his crew (although this book relied less on his regular supporting cast than the previous two). If I quoted every snappy line from the first chapter, you’d stop reading this post as tl;dr (and the publisher would come after me) — and things got better from there. Great internal dialogue. Finder writes lean prose without an inch of fat, but it’s not dry, not lacking anything — it’s full of personality and intelligence. There was one thread that seemed pretty important that Finder just abandoned, which is odd for him. Still, anytime you get an action hero quipping about coffee, I’m going to pay attention.

I had coffee. I took one sip and put it down. It tasted like something brewed by someone who disapproved of coffee.

I appreciated the observation about airport/tarmac security, and just with that Heller had spent more time with that. Maybe in the fourth book?

Smooth prose, good action, well-paced, and just a fun story. A real pleasure to read from beginning to end.

I received this book from Net Galley in return for the above thoughts. Thanks to Net Galley and Dutton for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotation above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can next month.

—–

4 Stars

Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder

Buried SecretsBuried Secrets

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #2

Hardcover, 386 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2011
Read: April 13, 2015

Private Spy, Private Investigator, Private Vengeance-Taker, whatever you want to call him, Nick Heller one of the best — he’s tough, he’s resourceful, troubled kids like him and he quotes The Punisher. Who doesn’t love that?

Heller’s relocated himself, his computer wiz, and his nephew to Boston since we saw him last, setting up shop marketing his peculiar trade. True to form, he’s pretty picky about who he accepts as a client, but there is one who he can’t turn away. Marshall Marcus, the richest man in Boston, was a lifeline for Heller’s mother after his father’s prison sentence was handed down. Now he needs a lifeline — actually, his 17 year old daughter does. She’s been kidnapped and will be executed if her father doesn’t give the men responsible exactly what they want.

The kidnapping itself, and the way Alexa is being held captive aren’t that novel — most readers who’ve watched a police procedural or two in the last few years will have seen one or two scenarios like it. But Finder does make it distinctive by making the man holding her into a particularly sick and evil man. Thankfully, we don’t spend so much time with Dragomir that the reader sympathizes with him, or starts to like him (à la Dr. Lecter). What he’s doing to Alexa is just wrong — as is pretty much everything that has led up to this point in his life.

Nick’s not just up against this twisted man — and those behind him — he also has to contend with a client who continually lies to him, an FBI official that seems to be blocking his efforts, and more than one person who isn’t who they say they are. Thankfully, he has Dorothy, his old military friends, international intelligence contacts, and a different FBI agent backing him.

There’s less action (as defined by explosions, gunplay, fights, etc.) than in Vanished, but it’s more suspenseful. In Vanished, it wasn’t until the closing pages that you had any idea what was happening with the victim — but here, there’s never any doubt about what’s going on with her, and what’s going to happen to her if Nick doesn’t put the pieces together. Soon. Which isn’t to say it’s all-thriller-all-the-time, there’s moments where Nick and the reader catch their breath. Even a couple moments of levity (Nick’s narrative voice helps a lot on that front) — his observation, “Veganism is apparently the paramilitary wing of vegetarianism” helped set the tone. Dorothy’s eventual use of the word “Pepsi” to close a chapter made me chuckle audibly (you’ll get it when you read this).

I should probably add that this book includes one of the grosser character deaths I’ve read in the last couple of years. Didn’t bother me much, he had it coming.

We get to see a bit more of Nick’s life and backstory this time. He’s a better-rounded character now. It’d have been easy to see him as a workaholic who had no contact with anyone outside of work and his nephew before. But that’s clearly not the case now. There’s not much more to him — but there used to be, and getting that glimpse helps you care a bit.

It’s taught, it’s a page turner, it’s a “I can always sleep later” kind of read. Man, oh man, I hope Finder has at least one other Heller adventure up his sleeve.
4 Stars

Vanished by Joseph Finder

VanishedVanished

by Joseph Finder
Series: Nick Heller, #1


Hardcover, 384 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Read: April 7 – 8, 2015

I lost sleep over this one. Literally. I had to force myself to put this thing down so I could get a little shut-eye. Which wasn’t easy. After about 70 pages or so, I realized two things very clearly: I was hooked on this book and was going to have to get the next one in the series very soon. Neither feeling went away.

Last year, when I read FaceOff, the Jack Reacher/Nick Heller story was probably my favorite, so when I found myself wandering the library last week, with every thing on my “to get list” unavailable, I figured I’d finally give a full-length Heller story a try. Clearly, one of the better moves I’ve made.

Nick Heller is former Army Special Ops, turned corporate espionage hotshot. His estranged brother, Roger, is abducted (at best) leaving an injured wife behind. His nephew, Gabe, freaks out and calls his uncle for help, not willing to trust the police. So Nick, with “a very particular set of skills,” starts looking for his brother.

Heller’s similar to Reacher, but has more of a cerebral approach to things. I’m not sure that’s necessarily fair, maybe it’s that he takes a less direct approach to Reacher’s bull in a china shop approach. That’s not quite it, either. There’s something similar, yet very distinctive about their approaches. It’s more than just the fact that Heller has money and resources (and friends and family . . . ), while Reacher has a fresh set of clothes, a new toothbrush and whatever weapon he can take off a foe. Heller definitely has a better sense of humor — and a cell phone, maybe that’s it.

Heller definitely has to work — suffers some real investigative setbacks, is flat-out wrong on several fronts, blunders a bit, and has to go through some real emotional hardship. Making him human enough to really engage the reader (in a way that Reacher never can — not that I want to keep comparing the two).

Well paced, intelligent, some cool spycraft, some good fight scenes and a lot less gunplay than you’d expect — this is a thriller well worth your time.

—–

4 1/2 Stars