Category Archives: thriller

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.

Mark de Castrique — The Singularity Race

Not too far into our future, several companies and governments are on the verge of creating the Singularity, the ultimate in Artificial Intelligence (AI). What if they create a machine mind that can surpass human intelligence, can control all of our communications, and has no moral values?

Scientists from around the world are meeting at a conference in Washington, DC. Prime Protection, a private security company, has the job of protecting the scientists who are being threatened by an anti-technology terrorist group. Ted Lewiston, the head of Prime Protection, asks Ex-Secret Service agent Rusty Mullins, to protect Chinese scientist Dr. Li and her nephew—one last job before he retires. A team of assassins storms the conference, killing top scientists and Lewiston. Mullins manages to save Dr. Li and nephew Peter.

Lewiston’s wife convinces Mullins to investigate who is responsible for her husband’s death and scientist/genius/billionaire Robert Brentwood wants Mullins to protect Dr. Li who is starting work at his company working on Apollo, his company’s AI. Brentwood’s goal, and the reason he hired Dr. Li, is to create a subconscious and morality for Apollo.

The plot twists and turns, leaving you trying to figure out who are the good guys and bad guys. Are Mullins, Dr. Li, and Peter protected or prisoners? Murder, kidnappings, missing scientists, Mullins’ family threatened…

Fast-paced and intriguing, the book kept me reading. I have to admit there were a couple of places where I thought Mullins missed the obvious or came to a realization a little late. I enjoyed the ride and will go back for more from author de Castrique.

Amy Gentry — Good as Gone

Thirteen-year-old Julie is abducted from her home in the middle of the night as her ten-year-old sister Jane looks on in fear from the closet. Eight years later, Julie shows up at her family’s door. That’s the beginning and the end of two stories. The current story moves forward through mother Anna’s eyes as she begins to doubt that the girl who appeared on her doorstep is her daughter. And the story of Julie moves backward through the eight years as Julie takes on one persona then another to the time when she left her home.

This thriller is about the two women and how they deal with tragedy. A mother who drinks and hides from life, ignoring the daughter and husband who are still with her, cannot except that the returning daughter is lying and might not be who she says. The daughter who does whatever it takes to survive—changing names and life stories as she moves from one situation to another— is always running, always lying to herself as well as others.

As a writer, I found the point of view (POV) in this novel interesting, The Prologue is the only place the author uses sister Jane’s POV—third person past. In Chapter 1 we jump to the mother Anna’s POV—first person present. When the story shifts to Julie and her various role’s POV it’s third person past, until the last part of the book where it’s Julie’s POV—first person past. It sounds confusing but it works.

The book grabbed my attention and held it to the end.

Ridley Pearson — White Bone

What a delight! I was transported back to East Africa—the sights, smells, sounds, the dry air, some of the same plants and animals. In my mind, I was there. Even though my two years were in Asmara, Ethiopia (now Eritrea) and surrounding area, and this novel takes place in Kenya, it all felt very familiar. Granted, the atmosphere and politics of Ethiopia in the early 1960s was much different than those of current Kenya. Asmara at the time of my two-year stay was fairly clean, peaceful, and civilized. The present day Nairobi, as described in Pearson’s book, is dirty, poor, corrupt, and violent. I could still feel the similarities.

Getting to the story, Grace Chu is sent to Kenya to find out what happened at a client’s clinic where a vaccine is making people sick, even killing children. She discovers connections between poachers of elephants and rhinos, the illegal ivory trade to China and elsewhere, the theft of a vaccine for cattle, and missing ivory from the Kenyan treasury. She hasn’t been heard from for two days, and her partner John Knox goes to find her.

The characters in the book are varied. Pearson takes you into the heads and hearts two main characters, Grace and John. Both have unique, strong personalities. I was especially fascinated by Grace and her ability to survive the bush of Kenya. The author also gives us insight into others’ motivations, including the leader of a band of poachers and a man who hunts poachers and kills them to protect the animals he loves.

White Bone is the latest in a series about Knox and Chu. I will definitely read some of the earlier novels. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the area, read this international thriller and let your imagination run wild.

J. D. Robb — Apprentice in Death

This review is more about the author (J. D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts) and her writing style than the story. First, let me say I am in awe of a woman who can publish over 200 novels in 36 years. That’s an average of almost six a year. And she writes well!

I haven’t read a book from the “in Death” series for many years. Long enough that I wasn’t at all familiar with the series protagonist, Lieutenant Eve Dallas. I imagine she’s changed over the years. In this story, she is a driven, very smart cop. She was in control of the investigation from beginning to end. She kept everyone moving in the right direction. She is also in a loving relationship with her husband, Roarke. He is rich, brilliant, and of course handsome. He treats her unbelievably well, and he even helps with the case with his money, ideas, and inventions. But Robb pulls this off without making it feel “over the top.”

This is a crime novel or a police procedural, and you know who the villains are very early.  But tracking them and preventing more killings keep the pace hard and fast. The author doesn’t let you pause for breath except for a few short breaks with Dallas and Roarke at home.

Two things about the writing were strange to me. First is the point of view. Robb uses omniscient POV. She knows what everyone is thinking…more or less. At times she seems to be using third person for long passages, especially with Dallas. Other times she switches back and forth rapidly between characters. This would normally drive me crazy. But Robb does it almost seamlessly.

The second strange idea in the novel is the time frame, 2061. True there are some tools, weapons, etc. that don’t exist today. But the story could be written in today’s world losing nothing. If I were to pick a time without knowing the date, I would guess ten years from now. Many of the special tools are available now or will be in a few years. Transportation was strange. Even in 2061, they weren’t using self-driving vehicles. The one thing we probably won’t have soon is off-planet prisons.

I enjoyed Apprentice in Death. It kept my attention, I liked all the characters, and the setting brought me back to New York City. Mainly, it was a good story. I’ll probably go back and read some of the previous books in the series.

Lisa Gardner — Find Her

Gardner writes excellent psychological mystery/thrillers. This one gets into the head of a kidnap survivor, Flora Dane. She is not the same person as she was before her abduction five years earlier. She deals with her trauma by chasing down villains who have abused or murdered other women.  She puts herself in harm’s way.

At the beginning of the story, she is attacked and left in a garage where she rummages through the abuser’s trash to find the tools to kill him when he returns.

Other interesting characters in the story are Boston Police Detective D.D. Warren, Flora’s victim advocate, and her mother who never stops loving her. D.D. is supposed to be on restricted duty due to an injury, but she needs to be in control of the situation and keeps going off on her own without informing her team. She doesn’t know whether Flora is a victim or a vigilante. Flora’s victim advocate is always there for her and joins forces with D.D. when Flora is kidnapped again.

A complex plot and the interesting characters kept me reading late into the night.

Barry Eisler — Livia Lone

Barry Eisler writes assassins as protagonists. I’ve read several of his John Rain, assassin, novels. Now he has created a new assassin or vigilante, Livia Lone. She is a Seattle police detective dedicated to bringing predators to justice. But at times when the system doesn’t do the job, she executes her own form of justice.

The story tells how Livia became what she is, both detective and killer. She was sold by her parents at age thirteen along with her eleven-year-old sister and was shipped from Thailand to the States with a group of people in a container. The men who controlled them abused Livia and she allowed it to protect her sister. After she attacked one of her captors, they took her sister, who was then returned to the container in a near catatonic state. Livia was separated from her sister in Portland, Oregon, and was “rescued” by a powerful man who adopted her and abused her. Her driving goal throughout her life was to find her sister.

Probably classified as thriller/mystery, this is truly a horror story—not in the horror genre, but the horror of human trafficking, the horror of the abuse that drives Livia to become what she is, and the horror of what she does to the predators. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it kept my attention and I was rooting for Livia.