I’m going to say that I’ll do one of these a month, but I’ve committed to a posting schedule before, and it hasn’t gone well. Still, here’s a start.
Top Down – Jim Lehrer’s 21st novel is a historical fiction piece set in 1968 dealing with one of the predominant questions from the JFK assassination: What if the bubble top on Kennedy’s limo had been left up? And who else did that decision affect?
Lehrer himself was at Love Field in Dallas on November 22d, just like Jack Gilmore, and he asked a Secret Service agent the same question that Gilmore did. That seed grew into a story about a daughter’s desperate attempt to save her father, and how a reporter might help her, and how that reporter might find something out about himself in the process.
I don’t know that I’ve read any of Lehrer’s other books, but I’m certainly going to after reading Top Down. I’m a history fan in general, and I’ve always been interested in the Kennedy assassination as well, so this book caught my attention easily. But I liked Jack Gilmore, as well as Lehrer’s portrayal of Van, Rosemary and Marti Walters, and his telling of how people can be injured by the shrapnel of historical events. Watching depression physically manifest itself was chilling. 4 stars.
The Martian – a survival story by Andy Weir. What do you do when your friends leave you behind on Mars? If you’re botanist/mechanical engineer Mark Watney, you plug the holes in your spacesuit and your body, and start figuring out how to last almost four years until the next spacecraft arrives on Mars. If it’s coming. Because everyone on Earth is going to think you’re dead.
Weir is a “lifelong space nerd” according to his jacket blurb, and it shows in this story. There’s a just-right level of detail to what amounts to a survivor’s log for Watney. He chronicles his successes and the risks for failure, which mostly involve “many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion.”
The story runs in a combination of first- and third-person, as the action jumps between Mars and Earth. Watley struggles to stay alive and find a way to get where NASA wants him, and people on NASA struggle to figure out how to save him. It’s a great thriller, even if it does take five years to get to the end. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. People don’t understand how long things take in the real space world. Highly recommended. 5 stars.
Olympus Rises – a military thriller by Jim Roberts, part of the Code of War series. In early 2014, a Ranger operation in Afghanistan is destroyed by a futuristic army, complete with black body armor and flying soldiers. As two survivors try to piece together what’s happened to them, they discover they’ve been taken captive by a private army who is supporting someone putting together the Code of War. The two soldiers, one a Ranger sergeant and the other a Canadian trooper attached to the Rangers, must rescue their comrades, escape from the mountain fortress where they’re being held, and fight their way home to tell their chain of command what’s going on. Then they have to go back.
The story reminded me of many of the TEOTWAKI novels that sprang up in the late nineties. Lots of faceless enemy troops with high-tech weaponry and gadgets strewn across the landscape. I wanted to like it, and back in the nineties, I probably would have. Have my reading tastes changed? Perhaps.
I wasn’t very hopeful when I read the author’s warning about “course (sic)” language. There were random capitalization and italicization errors. More important were the military mistakes made, like an E-6 leading a Ranger operation, and the 76th Ranger Battalion being involved, never mind the weapon and equipment errors.
1 star, can’t recommend it, and I won’t read the next book.
The Intercept – a 2013 thriller by Dick Wolf, and wow, what a ride. The first in Wolf’s Jeremy Fisk series, it follows the NYPD detective as he tries to piece together the tidbits of intelligence that he’s gathered over the years and figure out how they relate to the recent hijacking attempt of a 747 bound for New York.
Wolf makes great use of the contacts he built in the NYPD over the years of the Law & Order franchise, as he weaves an intricate tale of deception and subterfuge. You can sense the confusion and desperation in each character as they are carried along by currents set in motion years before.
Loved the characters. Fisk, Gersten, The Six, Shah, Kathleen Burnett were all well-defined. Plenty of detail when needed. The only glaring error was in the description of the sniper and the number of his confirmed kills.
The book reminded me a bit of L&O, and I suppose that’s not unexpected, given Wolf’s work, and my appreciation of the franchise. Definitely a good read, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on The Execution, Wolf’s next book in the series. As long as he’s fixed the mention of cordite I saw in the preview.
The Last Memory – An urban fantasy by Trevor Faulkner. On the night before his twenty-first birthday, Noah Lane happens upon a rift between the Plane of Man and the Plane of Gods, then manages to kill “one of the most feared immortal creatures in existence.”
Then he takes its place.
Faulkner put together a fun fantasy story full of adventure and threw in a little romance to keep it interesting. 3 stars. I’ll look for the rest of the trilogy.
Nine Lives – a great international thriller by Tom Barber, the first in his Sam Archer series. Nine terrorists on the loose in London, on New Year’s Eve. The story starts at 7:00 AM on the 31st. Sam Archer has 24 hours to stop nine people, and no idea where they are.
This one zips along, just like an episode of 24. Barber did a great job with characters, plot, and setting, with a last-second twist to crank the tension to 11. Definitely worth checking out the rest of the series. 4 stars.
The Shoulders of Giants – Jim Cliff’s first story in the Jake Abraham series. Jake is a newly minted private investigator in Chicago. His first case? Find the daughter of a disgraced ex-cop. Barely 36 hours later, he’s getting beaten up and told to back off. And how is the missing girl tied in to 6 apparently unrelated homicides? Is Chicago dealing with a spree killer, or a serial killer? Is there a difference?
This is a fun story to set up a series. I found myself liking Jake Abraham, and really enjoying his sense of humor. Cliff does a good job with his characters and settings, giving you just enough detail about Chicago, Jake, and his friends without info-dumping. Definitely worth a read if you like PI stories, and especially if you like Robert Parker’s Spenser series. 4 stars.
Watch for August’s post around mid-September. Featured image courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.