Category Archives: thriller

Steve Berry — Bishop’s Pawn

With appropriate timing—fifty years after MLK died, Steve Berry gives a fictional version of how and why the assassination took place.

The bulk of the story takes place 18 years ago when old paperwork from FBI files resurface about an operation called Bishop’s Pawn. An ex-FBI agent living in Cuba wants to trade the documents for a rare coin. Cotton Malone’s first assignment with the Justice Department is to recover the coin and the files.

Justice and FBI agents, active and retired want to get their hands on the secret files. Some want to destroy them, and others want to make them public. All parties want to know what they contain, what they might reveal about the assassination.

This was a good read, bouncing around Florida, more secrets uncovered at every turn. I think it could have been told in a shorter version without losing anything. I also wonder how Malone could have people dying all around him without getting arrested or killed—not always believable. But the story was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end and the end revealed one more twist.

Gregg Hurwitz — Hellbent

What I enjoyed about this novel was not the overabundance of killing, or the “Superhero” abilities of the protagonist, or the cycle of vengeance. Evan Smoak, involved in all of the above, was also learning to live with other people. He rescued a young teenage girl. At first he had no idea what to do with her and kept trying to find a safe place to dump her. But with time he learned to appreciate her, and they developed a relationship like father/daughter or mentor/student. Sometimes she was the teacher and he learned from her.

I enjoyed the underlying story about the growing friendship and about Evan trying to connect with a mother and son who lived in his building. But there was far too much violence, and the bad guys were just bad guys.

Robert K. Tanenbaum — Fatal Conceit

In Chechnya, Americans are meeting at a remote outpost with a rebel leader. In the US, the president’s top security advisor and campaign manager watch live via NSA drone as the compound is attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorist overrun the compound, doing nothing to stop the attack. When the fight is over and the two men in the US see that two Americans are taken as hostages, the men order the drone to wipe out the compound before the hostages are safe.

Of course, there is a big cover-up, plus blackmail and murder. This where the protagonist, New York DA Karp, gets involved.

This was a good read. The only problem I had with the book was long narratives explaining connections between characters from past times, apparently from previous novels in the series. I don’t think you need that much explaining if people have read the other stories, or even for those like me who haven’t.

I did enjoy the novel, staying up into the wee hours to finish it.

Daniel Suarez — Change Agent

Singapore
Singapore

Kenneth Durand is an Interpol Agent chasing genetic crime in 2045. He is shutting down labs that create designer children for a price. Marcus Wyckes heads the cartel at the top of the black lab food chain. Otto, the “mirror man,” created to survive human disasters and repopulate the earth if humanity is wiped out, hates humans, and is Wyckes right-hand man. He injects Durand with Wyckes’ DNA, expecting Durand to die and be identified as Wyckes. But Durand lives through the DNA change.

We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad, as Durand travels through the underworld of genetics trying to find a way to return to his original self. The setting for the book is fascinating, starting in Singapore, traveling through Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar. Suarez takes us through cities, farm lands, and jungles. He extends today’s technology into the future with interesting devices and transportation. The author also covers many possibilities, promising and terrible, from the results of “editing” DNA in plants, animals, and humans.

Suarez is a NYT bestselling author, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I could be tempted to read more.

David Baldacci — End Game

End Game takes place in a small town in Colorado, but it’s nothing like the quiet, safe, small town in Colorado where I grew up. This is one very bad town, with skin heads, religious cults, biker gangs…you name it.

Will Robie and Jessica Reel are partners—agents and assassins.  They were a couple, but in this novel they’ve split up, for reasons Robie can’t figure out. Their boss has been kidnapped while vacationing in his hometown. Robie and Reel are trying to find out who, where, and why and of course rescue him.

End Game is action-packed and full of twists and turns. A good read.

Although I enjoyed this story, my favorite Baldacci novel is still his first, Absolute Power. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie you should.

Sage Walker — The Man in the Tree

This novel kept me reading until 4 AM. As I said in my last post, science fiction can be almost any type of story. This one is a murder mystery, a romance, a generation ship story, a psychological thriller, hard science fiction, and much more.

The seed ship Kybele is almost ready to leave Earth after years of building and preparation, when a man is found dead in a tree. Helt Borrensen, the ship’s incident analyst is assigned the job of special investigator to determine if the death is suicide or murder and if murder, who is the killer. The investigation is complicated by the discovery that several of the colonists have apparently received large sums of money from an organization that opposes the seed ship leaving Earth orbit. The love story in the novel involves Helt’s attraction for the chief murder suspect.

Sounds like a romance novel, doesn’t it? But this is only a part woven into a complicated plot that explores the birth of a new world, human behavior and interactions, politics, multiple sciences, the controversy of surveillance, new ways to govern, creativity…the list goes on.

Sage Walker is an excellent storyteller.

Barry Eisler — Zero Sum

I’m not sure why I keep reading Eisler’s John Rain novels. Rain is a brutal assassin and the author delves into his mind, examining the details when Rain thinks about killing. And the sex scenes are heavy-duty, much more than I need to read. I didn’t finish the last two books I started because they were too “macho mail.” Yet Eisler keeps me reading to the end. He’s an excellent writer.Tokyo

Rain is half Japanese, half American. His childhood was split between Japan and the States, and he doesn’t feel accepted in either country. In Zero Sum, Rain has returned to Tokyo in 1982 after a few years in the Philippines. Even though I’ve never been there, his descriptions of Tokyo are so vivid that I feel as if I would recognize it if I visited the city.

If you like well-written psychological thrillers and anti-heroes, read this book.

Lee Child — Night School

Night School is the twenty-first Jack Reacher novel. Not the usual lone wolf story with our hero wandering the Midwest, finding small towns with trouble to solve. The story takes place in 1996 when Reacher is still in the army. After quietly receiving a medal for a black ops assignment, he is sent off to school. But the school is a cover for an assignment with two others, FBI and CIA. They not only need to find a traitor who is selling something for $100 million but what he’s selling.

I’ve seen mediocre to bad reviews of Night School (good ones too). Some readers don’t like the change of pace with Reacher working on a team. To me, it makes perfect sense that a younger man still in the service will be different. He still has the same personality, and I enjoyed the variety of story line. I devoured the book. For me it rates five stars.

Night School is like a musical work. It has a rhythm, a cadence. It builds to a crescendo.

Dennis Lehane — Since We Fell

I met Dennis Lehane once at a book signing in Boston and I’ve seen him on television a few times. He seems like an easygoing likeable person with a twinkle of humor in his eyes. But Lehane writes dark stories. His characters are twisted. He examines his characters minds good and bad—their delights, doubts, and demons. Great stuff!

The first part of Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs from a childhood with a dominating mother and no father, through a successful career as a journalist in Boston and an unsuccessful marriage, to a breakdown on camera in Haiti while covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Her husband leaves her, she’s fired from her job, and she becomes a virtual shut-in.

Enter second husband, Brian Delacroix, who understands her (unlike first husband), treats her with loving kindness, and helps her overcome her phobias. Perfect husband…or is he?

The story is filled with questions, conspiracies, murder, and surprises. Is it a psychological thriller, a literary novel, crime novel, or something that doesn’t fall into any genre or category? It fits all three of my classifications of head, heart, and even some humor.

Charles River, Boston
Charles River, Boston

The setting is mostly in Boston, my favorite city in the world. It made me feel at home.

In my opinion, Dennis Lehane is one of the today’s best authors.

Stephen King — Duma Key

Duma Key is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in many years. Even though he is an excellent writer, I’m not a fan of horror. You usually find his books classified as horror, but they could also fall into thriller, suspense, fantasy, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, ghost story, and mystery genres. Duma Key is all of these.

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book; maybe because the setting is in Southwest Florida where I live. I found the story intriguing from the beginning. Edgar Freemantle, builder and contractor, is almost killed in an accident that damages his right hip and leg, crushes his skull, and he loses his right arm. Due to his unpredictable behavior while recovering, his wife leaves him.

His shrink suggests Edgar should take up a hobby and go on sabbatical. He leases “Big Pink,” a house hanging over the water at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Duma Key. Here he begins to draw and then paint, learning at a furious pace. His ghost arm drives him.

Walking the beach, Edgar meets Wireman, and they become friends. Wireman is caretaker for an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, who floats in and out of dementia. Elizabeth owns the habitable part of Duma Key, including Big Pink, and she is an integral part of the story.

The story begins as psychological and/or supernatural thriller, moving on to become a ghost story. It doesn’t become a “horror story/monster movie” until about three-quarters of the way through. By that time it had me hooked, and I had to keep reading to see what would happen. Edgar, Wireman, and Jack (who was hired to help Edgar and became his friend) join forces to battle the monsters.

As I said at the beginning, Stephen King is an excellent writer.