Friday, October 28, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes

By Jussi Adler-Olsen

Don’t get confused by the title. You’ll soon find yourself enjoying The Keeper of Lost Causes with its subtle humor, interesting characters, and a unique take on kidnapping. Although this reader is usually wary of foreign police detective stories, I found myself moving through this story quickly eagerly waiting to see where it would take me to next.

Carl Morck is back to work in Copenhagen’s homicide department after a murder investigation gone wrong, where one of his teammates died and another ended up paralyzed. He is ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly created department in charge of what in layman’s terms are called cold cases. Relegated to the basement and with the help of his enigmatic ‘assistant,’ Morck reluctantly eases himself into a five year old kidnapping case of Danish politician, Merete Lynggaard, as well as keeping his nose into current cases, including the one which temporarily put him out of action. The story jumps back and forth between the present day investigations and showing the horror Lynggaard suffers at the hands of her tormentors throughout the years.

As I mentioned above, this is a unique take on kidnapping to offset a traditional police procedural investigation. The back and forth action keeps you moving along without bogging you down.

Carl Morck – Veteran homicide investigator. A streak of laziness, cynicism, and sarcasm. He has to deal with issues from every side of him. From a nagging wife, to a rebel stepson, and ‘partner’ who is more than he seems, a boss trying to put him in his place, and many more. A good rounded character.

Merete Lynggaard – Vice Chairperson of the Social Democrat party. No nonsense, professional, determine. She has a very busy schedule with no time for socializing because she cares for a brain damaged brother. She is shown from just before her kidnapping and her scenes show her suffering throughout the years. I like her strength and creativity.

Hafez el-Assad – Morck’s assistant. A Muslim who claims a Syrian background, but there is more to this guy than meets the eye. I like how he confounds and amazes Morck. A vital character to add a bit of comic relief.

Straight, to the point. Doesn’t waste time.

This story is character driven from the surly Mrs. Sorenson to the gruff but empathetic Jacobsen to the mentally damaged Uffe. Adler-Olsen doesn’t throw away minor characters, but brings them into a new light and shows the effect they have on others. You really feel the anguish of Lynggaard in her prison, the frustration of Morck with his assistant’s tidbits of knowledge, his wife’s constant nagging, and his tenant’s quirks, and sympathy for a confused Uffe. Despite the foreign locale, the unpronounceable Danish names, and the fact this reader deduced the bad guy early on, this award winning author’s story is delightful, suspenseful, and makes you root for the good guys.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, October 24, 2011

Set Apart

By K.J. McCall

As the country passes its one year anniversary of a federal government health care system, Washington, D.C. Detective Gordon Sand investigates the disappearance of a woman. Within succeeding months, more people go missing, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, his sister (involved in the health department), and his brother (a small town doctor) try to deal with the implementation of prioritizing and categorizing of the American public when it comes to health care rationing.

This is good example comparing the scheming power brokers of government vs. normal Americans living out their lives. I expect more books of this nature to be published. This is a basic approach to the problem with the corrupting of people with power.

Gordon Sand – Detective in the Missing Persons Department. Single. He travels to Pennsylvania to visit family nearly every weekend. He finds himself falling for a local girl.

David Sand – Gordon’s older brother. Doctor in a small town. He has to deal with problems of rules and regulations and seeing the results of waiting lists for health care.

Ada Sand – Works in the department of health. She is the first to see the categorizing of Americans by the system.

There are other good supporting characters including the the kidnappers and their bosses within the health care system. Gordon’s partner is a typical partner. There is a woman president with an ailing son. There are Mary, Gordon’s romantic interest, and her father, a stalwart, religious farmer. All of the characters are well defined. There are no surprises or end of story revelations.

Basic. Simple. Actually, there is relatively little dialogue. It’s not anywhere near the minimalism of a 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what there is doesn’t wander too far from the topic at hand. No profanity. The speaking styles match each character.

This story deals with comparison with the title being good for this type of book. Good, clean community living vs. the shady governmental health care system. Religious upbringing and family values vs. what people will do to stay in power. There are shades of the movie Witness with the romantic entanglements between Gordon and Mary. McCall throws in a realistic version of an ‘urban legend.’ (The one where a person wakes up in a tub full of ice only to discover a kidney missing). I think the way the rationing system and how people are prioritized in this story, explained in laymen’s terms is very possible and most likely probable if (or when) a federal system becomes reality. A very nice comparison to England’s and Canada’s waiting lists system is described. There is not a lot of shoot ‘em up action or long lasting suspense.

I did have a small problem with the way some chapters ended. After a nice detailed description of the small town or certain other areas, the author just ends the chapter with no reason. It’s like she just got interrupted and decided to go onto the next one when she got back to the novel. This made for a mental lurch because I expect to turn the page and continue with the chapter and I ended up having to reset my mind to change to the next scene.

Still all in all this is a very nicely written, clean story with a powerful underlying message.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Mortal Terror

by James R. Benn

Pearls, grenades, mythological statues, and playing cards placed on dead bodies, all set in wartime Italy. What else could you ask for in a mystery story? Despite the average sounding title and the fact this reader is wary of historical mysteries, James Benn's latest installment in the Billy Boyle World War II mystery series is a delight to read. It provided a complex and intriguing conundrum and enough historical details to keep me turning pages.

This is a well written piece of literature full of mystery, murder, and the realism about some of the horrors of war. Whether you've read the previous five novels in the series or this is your first outing, you'll find yourself falling right into line with no misstep.

Billy Boyle, a detective in training and working under the command of General 'Uncle Ike' Eisenhower, is assigned to investigate the murders of two American officers stationed in Italy. With each person Boyle questions, he racks up more clues with no connections and finds himself chasing a killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. In the midst of the case, Boyle learns his younger brother is being taken out of college to be an infantry replacement. Meanwhile, he sees soldiers suffering from the effects of combat fatigue while preparing for a major battle.

I like the idea of a mystery set during wartime, even though, I was a little cautious about it upon receiving it to review. But it works well. Serial killers weren't 'popular' or as prevalent back then as today, so this was something new for the detective to wrap his mind around.

Billy Boyle – Lieutenant, worked for the Boston PD, learning the ropes before he was called to war. Inexperienced as an actual detective, he learns quickly and comes across not as a bumbling fool, but as one who really cares for his job when he needs to do it.

Baron Piotr Augustus 'Kaz' Kazimierz – A mouthful of a name, but a good sidekick and partner for Boyle. Rich from a wise father, who, along with the rest of the family was killed when Germany invaded Poland. Kaz works as a translator and helps Boyle on his investigation

There a whole platoon of other characters, mostly military and each are shown with their own personalities. Very real, very believable. You have an immediate sense of who these people are, from the hard core Major to the grunt sergeants to Italian allied soldiers once enemies.

Basic, no frill. No long soliloquies or explanations that go astray.

Benn does his homework. I enjoyed the historical factoids about the war, Italy, and the time period. Since this book deals with a disorder many soldiers suffer, I liked the fact he comes at it straight without pulling the punches. He shows how even in World War II, the attitude about shell shock had started to change. Although it is set in wartime with death from many causes around nearly every corner, the graphic detail is kept to a minimum. Still, you do feel for what these guys and gals went through, and reminds you that soldiers are still today fighting for freedom.

This is not a light-hearted cozy, nor is it a hard-boiled bloody mess. It's a straightforward mystery you can readily imagine. It isn't over the top and it doesn't drag you down. You get a sense of war without being constantly barraged by it. I will be seeking out the previous five books.

My ranking

Red Belt

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Desperation

By Rick Mofina

As a teenager, Cora Gannon was gang raped. Unable to handle the situation, she turned to drugs and eventually ran away from home. She sank lower into drugs and criminal activity. When she became pregnant, she set about changing her name and her life. Now, as Cora Martin, she works as an accountant for a courier firm with a boss involved with Mexican drug cartels. One night, two men posing as cops invade Cora’s home, kidnap her daughter and demand she tell her boss to return stolen money. Helpless, she turns to the only person she thinks can help–her estranged younger brother, a reporter for a world wide news service. Using contacts and following leads, Jack Gannon travels to Mexico, Texas, California, and Nevada in search of any information that will lead him to his niece. However, he suspects something in Cora’s past has come back to haunt her.

Good story line. I thought at first it wasn’t going to go anywhere, that everything would be centered around Cora’s Arizona home. But it bounces around from place to place.

Cora Martin: 38, single mother. Works for Quick Draw Courier as an accountant. She left home at age 18 cutting off ties to her family.

Jack Gannon: 32, Cora’s estranged brother. Parents dead. Journalist with World Press Alliance. Single.

Earl Hackett: Special Agent for the FBI. Limps, divorced and estranged from his children. Embittered about his life and job and looks forward to retirement. Experience with narco-terrorists.

Isabel Luna: Works for a Juarez newspaper. Her father was killed by exposing drug cartel influence on local police. Is Gannon’s contact and assistant.

Lyle Galviera: Owns Quick Draw Courier. After getting into financial trouble, he hooked up with a Mexican cartel to courier drugs in religious items. Dating Cora at the time of the kidnapping.

Angel Quinterra: 20, cartel assassin who is looking to stop killing. He wants absolution from a local priest, but only after one more job.

Interesting characters even if Mofina doesn’t get too in depth with them. Everybody seems to be a secondary character, even Jack to an extent. Even though most of the focus is on his bouncing around the country and into Mexico looking for information, the story doesn’t focus strictly on him. There are many minor players who have small roles.

Everybody has his or her own voice. For some reason, though, Cora tends to get on my nerves. She goes from desperate mother wailing about just wanting back her daughter, then clamming up when it comes to telling the truth about her past. Hackett also tends to be lurking every time Cora and Jack speak and making obligatory threats.

Short chapters. As I mentioned above, the story doesn’t stay in one place. People are moving around a lot. Action is swift, details are minimal. Several short flashbacks for many charcters.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Accident

by Linwood Barclay

One night, Glen Garber, contractor in a Connecticut community, drives upon the scene of an accident where his wife, Sheila, and two other people have been killed. The police blame drunk driving on the part of Sheila. Garber, not believing his wife could do such a thing slowly starts digging into the case, especially after his daughter comes home with a video of mysterious phone calls made by her friend's mother. With a co-worker asking for money, a former subcontractor suspected of destroying a house, a detective snooping around investigating a case of counterfeit merchandise, and a shady character hanging around, Garber finds danger coming at him from all sides.

This is a very complex plot and I wasn't sure where it might be headed after the opening chapter. There are connections that branch off other connections. It is not a typical whodunit or a thriller, or a suspense filled nail-biter, but a combination of all three and a few more sub-genres.


Glen Garber – Construction company owner. Worried about business drying up.

Kelly Garber – Glen's eight year old daughter. She tries to deal with her mother's death as well as the cruelty from schoolmates.

Ann Slocum – Friend of the Garbers. Into 'purse parties' selling knock off brand name purses. She has secrets that are revealed.

Darren Slocum – Cop with a tainted reputation. Husband of Ann.

Fiona – Glen's mother in-law. Doesn't really like Glen, blames him for Sheila's death. Wealthy, controlling.

Marcus – Fiona's second husband.

Doug Pinder – Glen's second in command at the company. He is in financial straits.

Sally Diehl – Glen's secretary. Going through romantic problems with...

Theo – Electrical subcontractor who put in bad wiring that burned down a house.

Joan Mueller – Garber's neighbor whose husband died in an oil rig accident. Runs a day care center out of her house. Lonely

There are several other characters. There is a soap opera like feel to this story with every character having individual problems and backgrounds and secrets. At first, I wasn't sure what to think with this plethora of people, but each is shown in his or her own light with a fine mix of scenes. Barclay did a very nice job of not forgetting anyone, but not delving too deeply into any one person so the reader loses touch with the story.


I felt the profanity was a little forced. It wasn't necessarily needed.
Otherwise every conversation was straightforward. Glen has a few moments of speaking aloud when alone, but nothing unreasonable for a recent widower trying to make sense of the situation.


Intricate. Not too detailed, but enough to get a taste of the characters. I was a little bothered by the use of fragmented sentences. Some of them didn't feel right and there were many instances where the author used them.

Action scenes were drawn out just enough to give you a sense of emotion but not long enough for the reader to think, “Get on with it, already!” One thing I'll note: I read the ARC and although I've read many other pre-published books, this one needed some serious editing. I discovered more than a fair share of incorrect words, missing words, and punctuation errors.

Sometimes, the mistakes became a little distracting, but realizing it was still and ARC, didn't affect...

My ranking:

Purple belt.