Monday, August 29, 2011

Nazareth Child

By Darrell James

Bond server Del Shannon, is recruited to go undercover with ATFE agent Frank Falconet to find a missing FBI agent at a religious compound in the rural Kentucky town of Nazareth Church. Coincidentally, this assignment is the closest lead she’s had in her quest to find her mother. Working against a charismatic and powerful messianic leader in one Silas Rule, Shannon and Falconet attempt to ferret out the secrets of the isolated town and it’s almost hypnotized population.

This is another story of good guys going up against a money and sex hungry religious conman.

Del Shannon: Field operative doing undercover work looking for missing people, usually criminals. 28. Tattoo of a crescent moon on her wrist. Short hair.

Silas Rule: Leader of a religious sect. Black eyes, white hair, deep voice. Charming and seducing.

Frank Falconet: ATFE agent out of New York. Just coming off recovering from a gunshot wound from his last assignment. Separated from his wife and daughter. Thinking about giving up the job. Being reassigned to help out the FBI. Uses profanity a lot.

Randal Willingham: Del’s supervisor and owner of Desert Sand Covert in Tuscon. Formerly in Naval intelligence. Also is sort of a father figure to Del.

Roy Shannon: 56. Del’s father. Alcoholic. Refuses to give Del any information on her mother.

Darius Lemon: FBI agent, black. Falconet’s handler for the case.

Nigel Fontaneau: Rule’s assistant who, during tent revivals, give Silas tips on the people attending. Midget.

Cullen Rule: Silas’ teenage son. Rebel and bad boy.

The different quirks of the characters are fairly interesting but it feels like bits of character outlines plunked down. Yes, there is some depth, but they didn’t really draw me in. Del is different with her adeptness at catching bad guys and her short hair. The short assistant to Rule is unique. The townsfolk and Rule’s assistants, including Nigel, all act like they know Rule is a psychopath, but are cowed by threats of mental torture to stand up against him.

Falconet’s profanity seems slightly forced and it’s not absolutely necessary. It’s as if he spouts the words because he always has. Same with Del’s rare profanity. Falconet’s words in many of his sentences made me stumble in my reading. Not that they didn’t make sense, but some of the endings were off. Rule’s speeches about sin and godliness are standard fare but I didn’t really feel the fire.

Slow moving. The story doesn’t necessarily plod along, but I kept expecting a little more action, something exciting happening to rev up things. James skims over the mental torture of the federal agent. I kept trying to decide if this was more character driven than plot driven, but every time I did, I didn’t get the depth I expected.

My ranking

Purple Belt

Monday, August 22, 2011


By Neil Russell

Two gruesome murders, a billionaire with seemingly scores of contacts, the FBI, Chinese jade tigers, and an historical tale of the hunting and transportation of live tigers…all before page fifty. With Russell’s latest book, this is the beginning of a complex mystery with a slew of interesting, witty, and sometimes dangerous characters coming out of the woodwork at every turn. This one…well, it’ll drive you wild.

Billionaire and ex Delta Force operative Rail Black (isn’t that just a great name?)is called to a California desert town to witness the scene of a gruesome pair of murders. The victims are a police buddy and his Chinese wife. Black is asked by an LAPD Deputy Chief to make sure the murders stay hushed up. Almost immediately afterward, a tough, no-nonsense Special Agent in Charge from the FBI shows up demanding to know what’s going on and how Black is involved. From then readers learn some history, mainly involving

Ensign Fabian Canada on a mission in World War II. He’s supposed to be rescuing some downed pilots in China, but winds up saving a baby. This is the spark initiating an operation lasting decades…until it gets out of control and two people are heinously murdered in the California desert.

This is a very intricate plot and even the above paragraph doesn’t begin to cover it. The tendrils of connections are numerous and sometimes I found it difficult to keep everything straight. Still a very well thought out story.

Rail Black: Billionaire. Ex-Delta force operative. Begins the story driving a Rolls Royce.

Yes, there are other characters in this story. A LOT of characters. From the tough and cold FBI agent to cynical lawyer. From the racehorse gal to the Washington manipulator. From the Vegas casino host to guys named Fat Cat and Wal-Mart. Each character, from the minor ones to the recurring ones is very succinctly detailed and all play a role in the story. Nobody is a throwaway character. Again, and I have to repeat, very well developed characters.

Like the characters, very well developed. Black is cynical but can turn serious on a dime. The reader is never confused as to who is speaking. There are long explanations, but nowhere does the reader want the speaker to hurry things along.

Very intelligent. If you read the author’s bio you will find the man similarly so. Russell himself has gobs of connections and loads of knowledge. A few books could be written just on this man’s years of experience. The action and the humor are enjoyable. The details of the murder and some of the violence are not so graphic you are repulsed, but enough is there you know the score. I did find, however, several misspellings. Not enough to truly detract from the reader’s enjoyment, but enough to wonder if his editor hurried a bit at times.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bad Night's Sleep

By Michael Wiley

Private detective Joe Kozmarski is hired to play security guard at a new housing construction site that is experiencing its share of burglaries. When the thieves arrive, they turn out to be...cops. After shooting and killing one, Kozmarski is thrown in jail. A buddy on the force, who works as liaison to a civilian based ethical board, then recruits him to infiltrate the gang of thieves to destroy it from the inside. Kozmarski, who is trying to reconcile a relationship with his ex and fighting the temptations of alcohol, drugs, and a sexy partner, soon runs afoul of the FBI who also want a piece of the action. Who can Joe trust and just who's playing who in the bigger scheme of things?

This is a well formulated plot. There's nothing new, but that's okay. In this type of story, you expect things like bad cop power plays, street gangs, a high priced sex club, a tour of Chicago, the obligatory shoot 'em up car chase, and a few plot twists to keep you guessing. I haven't read a gritty PI story in awhile and this is one to remind me why I, and so many other people, have loved these kinds of stories since Spade and Marlowe first hit the mean streets.

Joe Kozmarski – PI, ex cop who got fired for substance abuse, divorced but trying to reconcile with his wife, still is tempted by alcohol and drugs.
While trying to do his job, he looks after his eleven year old nephew

Corrine – Joe's ex wife. Still loves him, but isn't sure whether she loves him enough to endure the trials he endures.

Lucinda Juarez – Joe's partner. She and Joe had a one night affair. She is loyal and will sacrifice to help Joe out on his cases.

Bob Gubman – Joe's buddy on the force. They're still friends (of a sort).
He's relegated to a desk job after being gut shot. Joe feels bad because he think he could have prevented Bob from being shot.

Earl Johnson – Big boss of the bad cop organization. Looking to organize Chicago's gangs under one umbrella.

Bob Monroe – Second in command of the bad cops group. He wants Earl's position.

These are typical characters but still ones you like or else love to hate.
Each is well defined. There are also some good supporting characters such as one of the thieves who is on the fence as to whether he should continue to stay in the gang, Joe's concerned mother, and a prostitute in the sex club for whom Joe wishes were in a different situation.

To the point. No long soliloquies or rambling conversations. What needs to be said gets said without extraneous material. Joe speaks with subtle cynicism without going overboard.

Again – what needs to be said gets said. Short sentences, to the point.
Quick action. No long philosophical moments, but direct 'now' thoughts. You get a good feel for the detective. The story never drags. It's a quick read, but thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is what you expect with this type of story and it doesn't fail.

My ranking:

Brown belt

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

You're Next

By Gregg Hurwitz

Because of mysterious circumstances, Mike Wingate, age four, was dropped off at a foster home by his father, who subsequently disappeared. Growing up a ‘hard knocks’ life, constantly in trouble with the law, he finally gets his life on the right path. Years later, married, with a daughter, he faces a tough business decision that could cost him millions. In the succeeding days, however, he encounters a pair of killers targeting him and his family. With his wife hospitalized, he and his daughter go on the run from not only the killers, but local and state authorities. Up against a system that seems to know virtually everything about his life, Wingate, with the help of his foster home buddy, must find the connection between his current life and the one so long ago.

It’s a complex plot with a lot of story, a lot of details. I thought the back story was a little too long, but still it fit in well with the rest.

Mike Wingate – Troubled foster child turned good. Construction worker, married

Kat Wingate – Mike’s eight year old daughter. Loving relationship with her dad. Precocious and intelligent.

William Burrell – Hired killer. Suffers from cerebral palsy which affects his walking

Shep – Mike’s foster home friend. He and Mike grew up not necessarily always skirting the law. Shep continued his criminal ways into adulthood, but is still loyal to Mike. He uses his knowledge as a criminal to aid Mike.

Each character is defined with their own personalities and faults. Even the bad guys are not the faceless killers of some books. Yes, you still wish for their demise, but they are unique.

Nothing special, but fitting each character.

The story starts out fairly slowly, with detailed back story and build up of events. Once it gets rolling, however, you find yourself drawn in deeper, wondering with each new downfall, how Wingate can escape the next ordeal. There is plenty of action and emotion. The hero, after overcoming so much as a youth, only wants to enjoy the good life his hard work has brought him. Instead, he finds himself making tough moral decisions that will affect that life, or if he even gets to continue living.

There are a lot of details, but Hurwitz does a fine job of tying together all these details. From a cheap lighter to Shep’s knowledge of safes. From a stuffed polar bear to Shep’s ‘deafness’. There is a lot of character insight, especially Mike’s (he is the main character after all), and his seeing his past meld with his present. Still even for the length it is a very good piece of writing.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, August 1, 2011

House Divided

House Divided

By Mike Lawson

Political intrigue so thick and complex you need a road map to chart its course. A cast of characters so numerous you need a score card to separate the teams of bad guys. Way too many people with way too much power, so one little glitch could cause the entire house to fall. The glitch may come in the form of Joe DeMarco, an all around 'gopher' to the U.S. Speaker of the House, who wants only to take advantage of some free time to play golf. This is what makes up Mike Lawson's latest thriller, “House Divided.”

DeMarco is called by a D.C. homicide detective because his name was found on a murder victim, a distant relation. Only wanting to dispense with the handling of the arrangements, DeMarco nevertheless gets drawn into the case and its anomalies. Meanwhile, a department in the National Security Agency that (illegally) eavesdropped on the communication between the murderers, is also on the investigating trail. Also in the game is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who (like everybody else) has secrets to hide and an agenda of his own. And we can't forget an agent of the FBI who receives under the table money. With everybody racing to be the first to the truth (or to keep it covered up), DeMarco must weave his way through the obstacles while not only worrying about the future of his job, but his life.

This is another story where the power players in government rear their ugly heads. Again (and probably not undeserving), the NSA is the snake in the grass with more gadgets, technology, and nasty bad guys (and gals) than they deserve. The plot connections throughout are tenuous at the beginning until you figure out the characters and what each is trying to accomplish. Then the threads slowly start to come together.

Joe DeMarco – Not the innocent all American boy as he works to keep his boss', the Speaker of the House, butt out of the wringer. He likes his free time and doesn't want to be involved in any hard work. I'm reminded a little bit of James Rockford, but without as much humor.

Dillon – The supervisor of the secret deparment of the NSA who is doing the illegal wire tapping. He's in the know and knows way too much about way too many people. His justification behind his illegal actions is he's trying to prevent another 9/11.

Clare Whiting – Dillon's second in command in his department. She's ruthless, hard-hearted, determined, no-nonsense, and doesn't like failure or questions without answers, especially from her underlings. Her motivations comes from a fiance who was killed on 9/11 when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Charles Bradford – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is behind the killing of the man which starts the story. He's been involved in some illegal assassinations around the world. His reasoning is he thinks the president is weak and won't do what is necessary to stop terrorists and others who hate America.

There are other supporting characters each very well defined in his or her roll. I like how Lawson gives each character a purpose, a reason behind their actions. This is not just a bunch of people running around power hungry and mad. Still, it raises the question of whether the end justifies the means. I do like the DeMarco's attitude (shared by the author) that I'm sure about me, but I'm not too sure about thee.

Fitting to each character. Conversations are to the point with no wandering off into confusing areas.

Lots of details, but nothing confusing. Long passages to explain the set up of many scenes, but nothing too boring. Action scenes begin and end quickly.
Lawson explains technology in layman's terms so readers aren't lost in the minutiae. If you're not a fan of political intrigue, this isn't for you. If you like a potential government 'blow up', then you will enjoy this one.

My ranking:

Blue Belt