The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham

The Strange Death of Fiona GriffithsThe Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

by Harry Bingham
Series: Fiona Griffiths, #3

Kindle Edition, 470 pg.
Sheep Street Books, 2015

Read: February 16 – 17, 2018


From the instant that it was mentioned in Love Story, With Murders that Fi Griffiths had signed up for a course in Undercover work, every reader knew that she’d end up doing some deep undercover work soon. Thankfully, Bingham didn’t make us wait too long because here comes both the course and the assignment. But before we get to the assignment, Fi gets this wonderful reality check after her course:

I’m tasked to process paperwork on a couple of cases that are coming to court. Someone assigns me to help on a team that is developing advice on how to avoid thefts from vehicles. The first of our meetings takes an hour and forty minutes and the gist of our advice will be, ‘Lock your car and hide your valuables.’ Or, to simplify further, ‘Don’t be a bloody idiot.’

I suggest that as a slogan and everyone looks at me.

I just loved that. Anyway, this seems like a perfect idea — there’s a real sense in which everyday life is an undercover assignment for Fi, letting her do it as part of her job seems like a no-brainer. Not that her superiors really understand that, but her readers do.

The case started off as a simple payroll fraud investigation — a clever and ambitious fraud, make no mistake, but not the kind of things that excites any police detective (especially one like Fi). But then, she ties one suspicious death into this crime — and then a particularly gruesome murder as well. These discoveries are enough to get The Powers That Be to take this seriously enough to put Fi and another officer undercover as payroll clerks to infiltrate this scheme. Eventually, Fi is recruited by the people they’d hoped recruit her and the game is afoot. Fi does things that will surprise the reader as much as they do to her targets in her efforts to bring some justice to the situation.

At some point, Fi is going over the results of her work thus far with our friend, DCI Jackson, and her handler from Organized Crime

Brattenbury says, ‘Fiona, this is remarkable work. You—’

Jackson interrupts him. ‘Don’t flatter her. She’ll cock everything up. Or start shooting people.’

Which is essentially the outline for every Fiona Griffiths novel, really.

Watching Fi go deeper into her cover and into the fraud activity is gripping — and also very different from the earlier books. Fiona doesn’t get to spend as much time with the dead as she likes, she can’t have their pictures on display without ruining her cover. It doesn’t stop her from doing what she can along those lines, but it gives Strange Death a different feel from its predecessors.

Fi’s investigation of the deaths isn’t the focus of this novel, it’s her undercover work — how she does it, how she embodies her cover, how as her cover she contributes to the community, how she learns things that can help her (both the fictional her and the real). Like too many who go undercover, Fi arguably gets too close to her targets (it’s not much of an argument, really), and lines between the detective and the felonious payroll clerk blurred more than they should’ve. The same kind of focus, the same kind of attachment she makes to the victims in the other books (and cases we don’t have record of) is brought to the people and work she encounters here.

At the same time, Fi’s desire — need — for the emotional, familial and romantic connections she’s made has never been stronger. Those things that she wanted, so she can be more like a citizen of “Planet Normal,” act as an anchor to reality in a way that has to surprise her. Not only that, she forges new relationships as DC Griffiths through these events. Minor spoiler: the Fiona Griffiths that emerges from this assignment is a noticeably different, more well-rounded, and changed in other (less pleasant) ways.

It was good to see DCI Jackson at work again. The other police officers (particularly Brattenbury and his team) were more interesting than we’ve gotten before. The same could and should be said for the other supporting characters we encounter in these pages — criminal and civilian alike. I hope that Bingham is able to find ways to bring many of these characters back in future novels (or he can just give us new characters that are as well constructed, but I like so many of these I’d prefer to see them).

I’m a sucker for undercover cop stories — since the first time I saw Ken Wahl’s Vinnie Terranova (when I was too young to be seeing such things) and what his work did to him. This was no exception — and a strong sample of the type. This story of Fiona Griffiths’ UC work is just as gripping, just as surprising as you could want and a sure sign that this character is more than a one-trick pony (if anyone was still wondering) and that Bingham is a writer to watch.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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Pub Day Repost: Where Night Stops by Douglas Light

Where Night StopsWhere Night Stops

by Douglas Light
eARC, 252 pg.
Rare Bird/Vireo, 2018
Read: January 12 – 13, 2018

She smells of lemons and warm cinnamon and isn’t very pretty. Sliding onto the barstool next to me, she says, “Can I sit here?”

The bartender, the woman, and me — we’re the only people in the bar. She can sit anywhere. It’s not just a seat she wants.

I study her a moment then catch the bartender’s eye, the order is placed without a word. Whatever the woman wants. Alcohol, like long marriages, has a language of its own, one not composed of speech.

Now, that’s how you start a novel.

So, our narrator is orphaned the night after his high school graduation — however odd it may feel to call someone on the cusp of adulthood an orphan, he is one (and the back of the book says so). Suddenly his college dreams, plans for the future are gone, as is his past (other than memories). He finds his way from Iowa to Seattle and takes up residence in a homeless shelter. The closest thing he has to a friend there sets him up with a way to make some money — more than he’d been able to scrape together from an under-the-table gig at a gas station.

It’s obviously not above-board, but it’s good money. What else is a kid with no ties to society, no dreams, no means and nothing better to do? We bounce back and forth between the opening scene (and what follows) in the bar and his burgeoning criminal career. He bounces all of the globe playing small roles in what are likely significant crimes. The resulting story is a combination of tragedy, comedy of errors and Bildungsroman. All of which leads up to a concluding scene that is at once unexpected and the only appropriate thing that could’ve happened.

As a reader. you’re never impressed with our narrator’s choices. You may understand them, but it’s hard to be behind them. Especially because after a certain point, our young man makes a giant mistake. The reader knows this — and has to hope that whatever he does, he figures out his mistake or gets out of this life soon.

The plot’s decent and will carry you along well enough. But it’s not why you will stick with this book (at least not primarily), it’s Light’s writing. In the middle of all this, there are sentences like, “Walking the empty night street, my kidneys rattled with anxiety.” I’m pretty sure this is biologically nonsensical (I haven’t bothered to check with my son’s nephrologist, but I was tempted to), but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly effective — you know precisely what Light’s going for there, and in the moment, your kidneys felts a little weird. There’s something to his writing that made me stop every so often to re-read a sentence or paragraph or passage — not because I missed something or didn’t understand what was happening, but because Light captured a moment, an idea, or phrase in such an engaging way that I didn’t want to move on.

I’m not sure if this is a very literary thriller, or a literary novel playing with thriller tropes. Nor am I sure that I care, but this is the kind of book that can appeal to both target audiences. It’s a good example of either genre, and a better example of why the distinctions are specious. There’s an interesting crime story here; a character study; a look at what happens to someone who has no connection to his future, society, or his past — oh, and it’s a good read, too.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion about the novel, I appreciate the opportunity, but it didn’t influence the above.

—–

4 Stars

The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

The Bomb MakerThe Bomb Maker

by Thomas Perry

Hardcover, 372 pg.
Mysterious Press, 2018

Read: January 29 – 31, 2018


Oh man . . . this brings me back to the conflict I felt trying to discuss Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. This is a heckuva read until it’s not — but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I know precious little about Bomb Squads, and have read precious little about them. I think Crais’ Demolition Angel is the only other book with a Bomb Tech in it for more than a few pages that I’ve read. So I was pretty excited to give this one a shot — incidentally, I do think there are areas of overlap between this book and Crais’ that’d make for interesting reading. Sadly, it’s been about 15 years since I read Demolition Angel, so I won’t be writing that. Still, my main point is that there’s not a lot written about Bomb Techs, and that seems pretty strange, because this kind of thing makes for some great tense moments — the kind of thing that thriller readers love.

(feel free to fill up the comments telling me how wrong I am and that there are dozens of great examples of Bomb Tech/Bomb Squad literature out there)

What we have here is a guy, never given a name, or dubbed with one by the media that we’ll call “the bomb maker.” We know nothing about him at the beginning, and learn only a little about him later on — for some reason, he’s decided to kill off every bomb tech in LA. And he does so by making bombs designed to sucker the Bomb Techs into doing X or Y, which will both set off the bomb itself. In his first attempt, he kills half the division — 14 of 28, including the commanding Captain.

What’s the LAPD to do? Thankfully, one of the Deputy Chief’s knows a guy — the last guy to command the Squad still lives in town, running a high-priced security firm. So the Chief recruits Dick Stahl to come back and help the LAPD through this time. Stahl knew most of the people that died, trained many of them himself and would like to help get some justice for them and prevent others from joining them.

So begins a great cat-and-mouse game. The bomb maker is pretty smart and knows how Bomb Techs think, so he fools them into setting bombs off. Stahl doesn’t know much about the guy beyond that, so he goes out of his way to overthink the bombs and finds the tricks that were included and thinks around them. Some of the squad start to think like him, and others don’t. You can guess how that works out for all involved. The bomb maker sees how Stahl is figuring him out, and steps up his game, making bombs that are more clever and more devastating.

This aspect of the book — which really is the bulk of it, thankfully — is just great. Perry could’ve given us another 100 pages or so of it and I wouldn’t have complained.

There’s a little bit romance between Stahl and someone, which complicates things and could’ve bery easily annoyed me because it seems so extraneous. I think the way Perry dealt with it and used in to tell his story ended up working, but I’m not going to argue with anyone who was bothered by it (I easily could’ve been). But for me, when you add these complications into the cat-and-mouse thing, it just makes for a better read.

Which is not to say that this book doesn’t have its share of problems. We get a lot of backstory on a couple of incredibly minor characters. There’s one character whose sole purpose is to find a bomb and call the police, yet we get a lot of detail on the career she gave up, why she did so, and what that costs her to this day, just to have her find a bomb. I liked the character (what we got of her anyway), her part of the book was well-written, but it seems silly to get that much detail on someone who disappears almost immediately. It’s like on award shows when they introduce a minor celebrity just so they can come on stage to introduce the award presenters. It’s just pointless. Perry does this kind of thing more than once here, meanwhile we don’t get a lot of information about most of the Bomb Squad members we do get to see do things. It makes little sense, adds little, and ultimately detracts from the suspense he’s building. I don’t get it.

One thing for sure, I add mostly as an aside, between the mysterious bad guy in Silence and the bomb maker here, I’m sure that Thomas Perry can write a great creep. Not just a bad guy with no respect for life or property or whatever, but a real cad who should never be allowed near a female. I’m not suggesting that describes all of his characters, just some of them — just the fact that the paid assassin is a step-up for Sylvie Turner (also from Silence) compared to the previous guys she was serious about says something about the kind of creep Perry can write.

I’m going to get close to a spoiler or two here, so feel free to skip this paragraph. If you’re still here, in the last 40 pages (less than that, actually, but let’s keep it vague), this becomes a different kind of book. It feels like Perry realized what his page count was and wanted to keep it below 375 so he had to bring the cat-and-mouse thing to an end. The action kicks into high gear, and the very intelligent thriller throws out the intelligence and becomes a couple of action sequences. Well-done and compelling action sequences, but a very different feel from the rest of the book. He also switches from giving us too much detail (like the life story of the lady who found a bomb) to giving us almost no information to help wrap up the closing events of the novel. I won’t even begin to talk about the last four pages, the final chapter almost doesn’t belong in the book — it does give us a teeny bit of resolution, but again, feels like a different book than what had come before. My kids can testify to this, I was yelling at the book during the final few pages, because I just didn’t get what Perry was up to.

This was a solid, smart, compelling thriller about the kind of characters you want to read about — smart professionals, acting for the public good and for the sake of their teammates up against smart professionals out to do wrong. I had a blast with most of this, and could forgive the tangents he went off on, up until the end. I did, generally, still like the end, even so. I still recommend this and think you’ll like it — I just wish Perry’d landed it better. It was almost a 4-star book, possibly more, but that ending . . .

If you have — or eventually do — read this, let me know what you thought of it. I’m really curious to see what others thought.

2018 Library Love Challenge
3.5 Stars

Silence (Audiobook) by Thomas Perry, Michael Kramer

SilenceSilence

by Thomas Perry, Michael Kramer (Narrator)
Series: Jack Till, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs and 15 mins.
Tantor Audio, 2007

Read: January 12 – 26, 2018


Jack Till is a retired LAPD homicide detective turned P.I. Six years ago, he helped a woman named Wendy Harper vanish from the face of the Earth. She’d been horribly beaten and was afraid that next time she wouldn’t survive, and neither would her loved ones. But now, for reasons unknown, someone has framed her former business partner/fiancé for her murder. It’s clearly a trap set for her, but the only way to prove his innocence is to prove that she’s still alive.

Even though Till knows the tricks he taught her to disappear, he doesn’t know how she applied his lessons or where she might have gone. It takes some ingenuity, tenacity and luck, but he eventually does. It then takes a lot more of the same to get her back to LA to demonstrate that she habeas her own corpus.

Meanwhile, Paul and Sylvie Turner, ballroom dancing aficionados and professional killers, perpetrated the frame and are on Till’s trail as he looks for Wendy (or whatever her name is now). They flirt, bicker and kill their way across California and beyond in their efforts kill Wendy.

The narration jumps between the perspectives of Till, Paul and Sylvie for most of the book — with a little bit of Wendy’s and, eventually, the man who hired the Turners. Perry makes some interesting choices about whose perspective we see some events through, giving us Till when you’d expect a Turner (and vice versa). Not only do we see the current action from their perspectives, we get a pretty detailed backstory for Till, the Turners and their boss — interestingly, almost everything we learn about Wendy, we learn from her disclosures to TIll, so we only see her from his point of view.

I really got into the story, and found the Turners pretty interesting — ditto for Till. The focus was on the Turners enough that if you told me that Perry’d written a sequel about them, I’d believe it (he did write one about Till). I never managed to get as invested in the backstory (or the current-story) about the man who hired the Turners. There’s some good twists, some smart reveals, and just good action moments.

I found the dialogue stiff, awkward and occasionally painful — the interior monologues of the various POV characters could also grate my nerves. I’m honestly not certain if that’s Perry’s issue or Kramer’s. Thankfully, the story was strong enough that I could put up with the problems I had.

Kramer’s got a huge list of credits, and is clearly beloved by many. But man . . . I found him tolerable at best, and frequently annoying. There’s a lot of problems that I had with the book that I’m attributing to his narration — I may be wrong about that, but I think if I’d been reading the book, I’d have overlooked and/or not had many of the problems that I did.

A strong story, with enough tense moments to satisfy any thriller reader, Silence is something to try, but probably only in text-form.

—–

3 Stars

The Dying Place by Luca Veste

Good grief! It’s taken me almost a year to read the second in this series? I’ve got to get this TBR under control.

The Dying PlaceThe Dying Place

by Luca Veste
Series: Murphy and Rossi, #2

Paperback, 383 pg.
Avon, 2014

Read: January 24 – 27, 2018

You can’t choose the last words you ever say to your child — and that’s what they are, no matter what age — as they leave the house. Off to school, off out with friends. Off to work, or on a date. You don’t think of them as last words. Just another part of the ongoing conversation, the never-ending role as a parent.

But at some point, they will be the last words you say to your child, and for too many parents in these pages, those words come a lot sooner than anyone expected or wanted. Which is just part of what makes this novel so effective and devastating.

So often (arguably, too often) in books about mass killers, the killers are depicted as geniuses, psychopaths, sociopaths, or a combination of thereof. The villains of this book (without giving too much away, I think) are regular people — people you pass by every day, see in stores, say hi to walking down the hall at work, or maybe even chat with a bit by the coffee pot. They’re hard-working, responsible adults — vote, pay taxes, help their neighbors, maybe raised a few kids. But life has dealt them one too many band hands and they make some horrible choices in response. And then things spiral out of control.

The victims aren’t the easiest to sympathize with — at least on the surface — they’re young men, technically adults, but kids really. Petty criminals — felons-in-training, on the whole — loiterers, drug users, public drunks, vandals. Not the kind of criminal you stay awake at night worried about, but you certainly don’t want your kids turning out like them or your daughters dating them. On the whole, men who could profit from a good mentor, like the folks in the previous paragraph.

That’s more spoiler-y than I tend to go around here, but that’s just the first 50 pages. One of these ne’er-do-wells shows up dead on the steps of a church, bringing Murphy and Rossi into the story, investigating this murder and eventually understanding that there’s more going on. This particular murder victim has been missing for months, but given his frequent delinquency, no one other than his mother, took his disappearance as anything to be concerned about. The reader, by this time, knows that he’d been kidnapped by our fine, upstanding citizens for the purpose of (re)educating him and redirecting his life — up until it was ended, and he wasn’t the only one being (re)educated in this fashion. The question is, will Murphy and Rossi catch up to the reader’s information in time to stop them before another young man is killed?

Pretty much at this point, the reader can plot the rest of the book and do a pretty good job of it. What the reader won’t be able to do is pace it like Veste does — it seems like he breaks several Basic Thriller 101 rules on that front. More than once I muttered, “What, he’s doing that now? Already?” (and once or twice the opposite — “he finally got around to this?”). He may have broken pacing rules, but he did so in a way that worked. Which is really all that matters, right?

It’s the characterizations that bring this home — Murphy and Rossi dealing with their demons as well as the mystery surrounding the missing and then murdered victim; the kidnapped men/boys; as well as the kidnappers. He doesn’t dive too deeply into the various kidnapper’s frame-of-minds, just enough that we understand what they did and why — and how they reacted to the chain of events they set in motion. We get a little deeper when it comes to the victims — which allows us to empathize with them.

But Veste also makes us looks at what the people around these victims thought of them and their families (mostly their mothers) both before and after these boys became victims. It’s at this point that society at large fails. Veste doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to fix societal ills, but man, he makes you think long and hard about your attitudes about some people. The fact that he does that while telling a chilling crime story is all the better.

There’s more to be said about some of this, it’s a very ambitious work — I have many more notes about things I intended to talk about, but I think I’m going to stop here so the focus stays on the vital stuff. Veste tapped into something powerful here, and that overshadows a lot of the nuances I could talk about (and outweighs the few nits I want to pick). From the wrenching opening pages to the guy-punch of a conclusion, The Dying Place is a gripping police procedural featuring characters you can’t help but like and root for, even while the world around them comes apart at the seams.

—–

4 Stars

Book Blast: The Immortality Trigger by Douglas Misquita

~ The Immortality Trigger by Douglas Misquita ~
a Luc Fortesque adventure thriller


1945 
Allied paratroopers raid a secret Nazi research facility. The operation is reported as a success. But, the lone survivor, Benjamin Ezra, knows otherwise. 

2014 
A drug lord, El Fantasma threatens to plunge Colombia into an era of bloody drug wars. DEA Country Attaché, Zachary Mason is in charge of a covert operation to remove El Fantasma, with the help of a vigilante, El Angel, and a retired undercover agent, Raymond Garrett. 

In Naples, INTERPOL agent, Sabina Wytchoff, is investigating the death of her parents, when the Wytchoff family’s association with an ancient cabal comes under investigation. 

After the events of The Apocalypse Trigger, Luc Fortesque, is scouring the world for the man who tested experimental drugs on him. 

Wei Ling works for a shadow Transhumanist faction within China’s State Council, developing drugs that will enhance human longevity. 

Their paths will converge… violently… and conclude the mission that began in 1945.

The Immortality Trigger
is also available at all leading eBook retailers


Reviews for The Immortality Trigger:

“…with a storyteller of Misquita’s caliber, you just may need Dramamine before the first chapter is done.”Bestthrillers.com
“For fans of the fast-paced and modern tale with global reach that dabbles in history, this is a perfect storm.”Lydia Peever

“The Immortality Trigger cemented in my mind why Douglas Misquita is my favourite Indian thriller author.”Newton Lewis


Other books in the series:
         



Douglas Misquita is an action-adventure thriller writer from Mumbai, India. He hammered out his first novel on the keyboard of a laptop with half-a-working-screen, and has been churning out literary entertainment to the tune of a book-a-year. His books have been praised for their pace, locales, intertwined plots, research and visuals – it’s almost like watching a movie… only, this one unfolds across the pages of a book! 


Giveaway:
One Paperback Copy of The Immortality Trigger by Douglas Misquita

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Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Orphan XOrphan X

by Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Orphan X, #1

Hardcover, 354 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016

Read: January 17 – 18, 2017


Wow. Just wow.

I firmly believe, and have said so repeatedly here, that it’s not the novelty of an idea that makes a book worth reading, it’s the execution. But for some reason, because I’ve seen/read this story (at least what one can tell from the blurb) so many times, I put off reading it. That was stupid. There’s a reason some stories, some ideas are told so many times: when done well, they are great.

That’s what we’ve got here. Evan Smoak is an Orphan (he’s also an orphan, but that’s not all that important). From a pretty young age, he’s been trained as an off-the-books special operative for the US government, with a tie to only his handler. No other connection whatsoever to any covert agency, budget, oversight. Nothing can possibly go wrong with that, right? At some point he runs into another Orphan and is struck by the differences between the two — clearly, Evan’s training involved the cultivation of a conscience and a modicum of ethics. This splash of humanity gets this human weapon into trouble and he leaves the program.

But it’s not like he’s got a backup plan for his life, he’s trained for only one thing, so he becomes The Nowhere Man. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him…maybe you can hire, well, the A-Team. Because The Nowhere Man can’t be hired. If he helps you, all he asks is that you find someone else in trouble and give them his phone number. Evan goes on for some time like this, helping people who can’t help themselves, getting some justice for those who are let down by the system, etc.

Until one day, things go pear-shaped when meeting a new client, and suddenly Evan finds himself (for the first time in his life) the hunted.

About the same time that his professional career is blowing up (almost literally), he finds himself having a personal life. Until now, Evan’s lived a pretty monkish life — free from personal ties, anyway. A lonely existence to be sure. and he starts to have friends? Not surprisingly, at all, this adds some complications to his already pretty complicated week.

This is an exciting read, fast-paced, energetic, incredibly violent — the fight scenes are great. This is essentially a Jason Statham movie in text form (although Statham always looks like someone who could star in an action flick and Evan doesn’t). It’s fun, it’s impossible to take seriously, (but I can’t imagine that Hurwitz expects anyone to). Evan’s The Punisher without the anger, The Equalizer without the age, Jason Bourne without the memory issues, James Bond without the government backing/British accent, John Wick without the dog or criminal record.

Okay, it’s clear I don’t know what to say about Orphan X at this point . . . this is a fun read, I’m glad I finally got around to it, and I’m looking forward to the sequels. If you like action flicks, give it a shot.

—–

3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge