Jack Reacher Clones

This is for those of you who love Jack Reacher. Being a big fan of Lee Child’s series of novels, I am delighted to find two additional series, which match the adept and self-sufficient protagonist, Jack Reacher.reacher

First, let me introduce you to Peter Ash, soon to join the ranks of Reacher, Spenser, Doc Ford and Myron Bolitar. Ash is also a recently discharged vet who has PTSD, to the extent he can only briefly enter any type of building or other enclosed space without a panic attack. Like Reacher, Ash is a good guy who travels about solving other’s problems.

In The Drifter, Nick Petrie introduces us to Ash who tries to help a fellow Marine’s widow after he commits suicide. Lots of pulse-pounding action with the ugliest dog alive and memorable characters galore. I have read all three of Petrie’s Peter Ash novels and all of them are quality writing – as with the Lee Child novels, I await the next thriller because I have come to care about the main character and the side kicks who help him survive his crazy world where good always triumphs.

drifter

Then, there is The Gray Man. I started with the 7th book in the series because I didn’t know! Agent in Place by Mark Greaney sounded like Jack Reacher as SPY, so I scooped it up. Indeed, the Gray Man is more Jack Reacher than even Reacher is – he is deadlier and more moral than any character I have read. The Gray Man is an ex-CIA professional assassin who only kills when it is moral to do so.

These Gray Man books are ultra-action novels, rather Jack Reacher on speed, but I loved the great writing and the unbelievable skills of this killer. In Agent in Place, for instance, his goal is to kill one of the most disgusting world leaders that you can imagine (no spoiler here). Yes!! Go Gray Man!

I should have started with book one in the series, called The Gray Man, of course. So that is where I will go next, but I read Agent in Place in two days – and they were busy days for me! I hated to put the book down and there is no greater compliment for a book than that. The books are meant to be stand-alones, however, so do yourself a favor and take your pick from the seven published.

agent

If you like the Jack Reacher escapist novels from time to time, now you don’t have to wait a year for the next Lee Child book to find excellent writing in your action novels. Petrie is very similar to Child while Greaney’s character is international in its range. Either author will give you a quick and enjoyable Jack Reacher fix in this action thriller subgenre.

 

My rating: 5 of 5

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R.I.P. Philip Kerr

A sad day today. Philip Kerr, one of my favorite authors, died today in London. With him dies Bernie Gunther, the hard-boiled Gekerr photorman cop, turned Private Investigator, set in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s violent world.

Through 13 novels we have followed Bernie as he survives Nazis and the following so-called peace. Our sarcastic Bernie moves from wise-cracking, reluctant Nazi to a jaded man on-the-run from all governments and politics. And we will miss him terribly.

Gunther is “one of crime fiction’s most satisfying and unlikely survivors: the good cop in the belly of the beast,” wrote Jane Kramer, The New Yorker’s longtime European correspondent, last year.

Kerr was a Scottish born writer who captured the evil of that time and place better than anyone I have ever read. He died at only 62-years-old from bladder cancer just before the publication of his final novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, which comes out next week. There is apparently another Bernie manuscript left behind, Metropolis, which let’s us explore the Weimar Republic when Bernie was young in the 1920’s.

If you are lucky enough to not have read Philip Kerr at this point, start with his trilogy, Berlin Noir berlin, which contains the first three Bernie Gunther novels. Though you can really start anywhere in his Gunther books since Kerr consistently jumped around by time and location.

As readers, we have moved through time with Bernie from the early 1930’s in Germany to the 1950’s in Havana and the French Riviera. The world-weary ex-cop never caught a break as history pushed him along. Now we too, have lost our luck and must say goodbye to Bernie as well.

 

 

The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson

Bratwurst. With mustard and all sorts of extras for the delicious, craved sausage. And then Swedish CSI Detective Lars Martin Johansson takes a bite and has a stroke. Thus begins a wonderfully written 500 page Scandinavian mystery about an extraordinary man and detective. In the National Crime Police, Johansson is the cop who is known as the “man who could see around corners.”

Persson has expertly drawn out the several characters we follow from hospital to sofa at home to chauffeured car rides – But our main interest is in Johansson, who is paralyzed on one side, whose mouth droops and has debilitating headaches! But he leads his little team on the chase of a murderer of a little girl killed many years before.

The remarkable writing brings these characters into your home as you read Persson’s novel, which though a mystery novel, does not show us any violence. Strangely this book is uplifting, and yet you can guess the expected outcome from the start. Our hero Johansson is in a race against time to catch his foe.

I was sorry to turn the last page on this book. I laughed sometimes with the wonderful dialogue and closed the book several times to ponder a sentence or thought that Persson had written. How often does one do that in reading any novel.dying detectiv e

Persson is from Stockholm and works as a professor in criminology at the Swedish National Police Board. The Dying Detective has won not just the Crime Writer’s Association International Dagger 2017, but it also is the winner of the Dannish, the Finnish and the Swedish Academy of Crime Writer’s Awards (that is three separate awards, not one!), as well as the Glass Key, which is the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel.

This is a book not just for those who like Scandinavian mysteries, however. As I said the typical Scandinavian mystery violence is missing. Rather this is a mystery for those who like a well-written, 500-page, quick read which will please your reader’s need for pleasure and action.

5 of 5 Stars

Origin by Dan Brown

Poor Dan Brown! No one has ever commended his writing style, and now with his fifth Robert Langdon thriller, Origin, out last year, the critics are almost universally agreed that we have had enough of his same-old-same-old story line.origin

But while I agree mostly with the criticism of Origin that it is just a continuation of The Di Vinci Code (except it is set in Spain!!), what did everyone expect? Of course, Brown’s plots are in the style of DAN BROWN. That is, they are just like the similarity you see in Lee Child novels and Robert Parker novels – if you have read one, you have read them all. But that is why we read serial-character novels as they come out… we liked Brown’s basic plot around cryptography, symbols, codes and conspiracy theories.

In Origin Brown again tackles the religion vs. science arguments. This time quite substantially. Our art history lessons this time concern modern art – that is at least one significant change in a Brown novel! And as I said, we learn a great deal about Barcelona and Bilbao, Spain.

Brown got his interest in European art when he spent a college-abroad year in Seville, Spain, where he enrolled in an art history course. His first book Digital Fortress was also set in Seville. And I think you can feel Brown’s affection for Spain in the pages of Origin.

I cannot say that the writing in Origin is great or even that good. I agree the “Dan Brown Plot” has been done over and over. But I did indeed enjoy Origin. I got pulled in to the silly plot and the chase through famous Spanish historical sites. But the book was what I expected, and therefore, I was not disappointed.

3 of 5 stars

 

Sue Grafton R.I.P.

Three women led the way in the Second Golden Age of the Mystery in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The huge boom in detective fiction was due to the courage of three women authors who moved the mystery novel from violence AGAINST women to alibiviolenceSOLVED by women. These leaders were Marcia Mueller, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone broke onto the mystery scene in 1982 with A is for Alibi and went on to achieve cult status in the 1980’s as she became the most read detective of either gender in that decade. The new young, hard-boiled but female detective Grafton and the others created was strong, intelligent and yet emotional about the effects of violence and crime. A new era in mysteries was beginning.

Sue Grafton died Dec. 28th at the age of 77 having written the entire alphabet series from yesterdayA to Y…. Z is for Zero, which was to be her last novel in the series, will not be written after all. Grafton’s family says that she was adamant about not allowing her novels to be turned into television or film so Y is for Yesterday, which came out last August, will be the last Grafton we will be able to enjoy.

Kinsey Millhone and Sue Grafton had a sort of alter-ego connection, according to Grafton. But she noted in an interview that there was one big difference – She realized early in writing the series that if she was going to write the entire alphabet, Kinsey could not age in real time and still be a young, strong detective.

“When I started, she was 32 and I was 42,” Grafton said to the Seattle Times last August. “And now she is 39 and I am 77, which I just do not think is fair.”

 

Domestic Noir Mysteries

Since my last review of The Ex, where I was less than a happy reader, I decided to make mention of other Domestic Noir mysteries that I do indeed like. After Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the Domestic Noir business shot through the publishing roof. Though not the first of the new genre of mysteries, Gone Girl became the lightning rod for those that followed — many with “Girl” or its off-shoot in the title.

There was The Girl on the Train, The Couple Next Door, the Girl in the Dark, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Girl Before, The Girl in the Red Coat, The Silent Wife, The Good Girl and many more. Publishers actually told writers to include “girl” or the equivalent in their titles to market their books.

Domestic Noir is a sub-woman cabin 10genre within mysteries, which takes place primarily in homes and workplaces and concerns itself largely (but not exclusively) with the “female experience.” That means things that women are supposed to care more about – family, love interests, home-life, marriage. Usually the boyfriend/husband is considered part of the problem, and the question for the reader is usually — is my home and relationship safe?

In reality for many women the answer is no, and women do concern themselves with family a great deal so I can buy the supposedly broadly feminist view that domestic life is a challenging and sometimes dangerous prospect for its inhabitants. Unfortunately, many of the Domestic Noir mysteries are lacking in the essential mystery elements like clues, red herrings, and more than one potential villain.

I think the first real modern Domestic Noir mystery was Learning to Swim by Sue Henry in 2011 which was a fine book about a woman who saves a boy who is thrown off the back of a boat and then sets out to find out who is trying to kill him. But Gone Girl, 2014, gets all the credit. And I have no objection as Gone Girl was actually a good read – go back and read Gillian Flynn’s other books which are equally as good.

girl in darkI set out to find some other well-done Domestic Noir books to recommend. My favorite three are Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, all for different reasons.

Girl in the Dark is written by a Dutch woman and is my favorite. A single mother/lawyer discovers a long-time family secret that her autistic brother is in prison for murder. Curious, she looks into the case and an amazing story unfolds. Highly recommended.

Before I Go To Sleep was an early entry into the Domestic Noir field, published in 2011. In this engrossing suspense novel, an amnesiac, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form any new memories, and desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she is—and more importantly, who she can trust.

Another favorite of mine, which might not be as well-written as the others, but is a fun romp, is The Woman in Cabin 10. More of a thriller than a mystery, I enjoyed the fast-pace tease. Reminiscent of an Agatha Christie enclosed-mystery, our heroine, working for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. What could go wrong?

 

 

The Ex by Alafair Burke

Since I had heard such great things about this book, I started it with apprehension. Often the reviews gush over mystery novels that I find less than “a mystery.” Sorry to say that this too is an example of over-hype.

The plot starts off fine. The main character is quite appealing (a tough hard-boiled NY City criminal defense attorney with a touch of humor about herself). And the pose was easy to sweep through, if not exactly gripping.

But then…. nothing happened that you could not predict, the other characters remained cardboard at best and the ending suffered from obviousness.

The Ex givThe Exes us Olivia Randall, the quite enjoyable, tough-woman attorney, who sees that her ex-boyfriend of 20 years ago has been arrested for the murder of 3 people and of course, feels compelled to take his case. The soap opera story line about their past together was over the top with tragedy (battered mothers, abusive fathers, cancer, cheating lovers, car accidents, psychiatric hospitals, blackmailers, mass shootings). I wish I were kidding.

Allegedly the man the ex-boyfriend targeted was the father of the killer who shot his wife during a mass shooting. As Olivia investigates the crimes she begins to switch from advocating for the ex to not believing anything he says. Much of the book is about whether or not the ex is to be trusted.

I would qualify this novel as a combination chick-lit/mystery. So perhaps the over emphasis on the relationship between the ex and Olivia is more acceptable to readers who like this type of mystery. The straight mystery elements, however, suffered here. Too much coincidence. The character’s actions were often unbelievable and kept taking me out of the story. The ending has been written hundreds of times in a mystery – it no longer surprises anyone who reads mysteries, especially if it is advertised for 200 pages.

But let me add, I rather liked the book! Seriously, it was a quick and good read if you want something light and don’t have the energy to focus. The author, Alafair Burke, is a former prosecutor turned criminal law professor who has written 10 previous mysteries. Plus, (BIG CLUE) she has co-authored two other “mysteries” with Mary Higgins Clark, the grande-dame of chick-lit suspense novels.

3 out of 5 stars

The Dry by Jane Harper

I love to take a journey when I read a mystery novel, and Jane Harper’s The Dry is just that –literary travel. Journalist Harper moved to Australia when she was a child so perhaps this trace of outsider allowed her to write the prose which gently but thoroughly pulls the reader into theAustralian outback.

The book’s hero is Federal Agent Falk who returns from Melbourne, where he now lives and works, to his small hometown for the funeral of his best friend from childhood. Falk’s friend has apparently committed suicide after shooting his wife and child, but of course, the small town judgments and secrets play a role in this intricate plot.the dry

The drought has taken its toll on this small town and the fears of the people who Falk once knew. Why didn’t Falk’s friend kill the baby who was also in the house? Why shoot his wife when she opened the front door of the house?

This is a fun mystery with all the ingredients for a good read for mystery lovers. Nice plot, outstanding setting and a balanced and well-timed ending. This novel has gotten a lot of media coverage and won the Dagger Award for first book in 2017. Harper apparently wrote The Dry during a 12-week online writing course!

I certainly enjoyed my trip to Australia as I turned the pages – but I am giving this book a 4 out of 5 because I read it about a month ago, and when I sat down to write this blog, I could not remember the plot or ending! I did, however, remember the feel of the hot and dry Australian outback that Harper so elegantly painted for the reader. Given my travel lust, that alone was enough for me to recommend this book.

4 of 5 stars

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

before the fall

Hawley’s novel begins with the crash of a private jet off the shores of Martha’s Vineyard. On board are very influential people – two survive. As the novel slowly unfolds, the reader finds out the how and why of this final voyage.

Before the Fall won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the International Thriller Writer’s Award for Best Novel, and I must say the chapter with the plane crash is one of the most exciting chapters I have read in many years.

I found the writing style odd, however, as Hawley changed tenses back and forth throughout the book, and the plot line was indeed quite slow. But this is a character study. And a surprisingly great ride.

Hawley is a television writer and producer, best known for creating and writing FARGO, the television series. You will see a little of that style of thriller and odd-ball dialogue in this book as well.

I know the ending surprises some people who are not happy at first – but give this book a read and think about the ending for a while. I believe the ending pulls the entire story together and is perfect. Bravo to Hawley for getting us to think.

5 out of 5 stars

A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming

I have a soft spot for the risk-seeking but loyal spy, especially when on the run from other spies. One of my favorite modern espionage writers is Charles Cumming who has just published his third in the Thomas Kell/ Amelia Levene series. And while I may be biased in favor of almost any espionage novel over most fiction, Cummings has once again given us a smart novel to stay up late reading.divided spy

This time there is a high-profile terrorist plot unfolding, while Kell jousts with a Russian intelligence agent. But Amelia Levene once again appears in her character of the first female Chief of MI6, and in fact, this book continues the story line of the first two books. So I am going to suggest if you haven’t read Cumming’s Kell series before (he has written quite a few other espionage stand-alone books), you should start with number one, A Foreign Country.

In A Foreign Country Levene has disappeared without a trace, just six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. Kell is off across Europe to find her. In the second book, A Colder War, Kell comes in from the cold (why is he in the cold? Read book one!) to investigate a mole in MI6 who is sabotaging joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

I love these books for their introspection on the subjects of deceit and living a life defined by lies. These are not the novels for those who want action on every page with car chases and bombs going off every chapter. Cumming has been compared often to John le Carre and I understand that — Cumming’s prose about the creation of false identities and elaborate mirages does remind me of le Carre, the greatest spy novelist of all time.

A Divided Spy is not my favorite of the trilogy, as it is somewhat predicable and perhaps tells us too much and shows us too little, but I recommend it still — afforeignter you have read the others. One fear I have is that this is the end of the Kell story line since Kell has finally been smothered by the deceit in his life.

In a release for this novel, it was mentioned that Colin First has purchased the rights to The Foreign Country. I certainly hope so as I would love to revisit the story on the big screen. But you should hurry and read the Kell books before the movie hype takes over!

My rating: 4 of 5