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

 

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

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

The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

Having read Gun Street Girl by McKinty last fall, I decided to go back and read the first in his Irish historical series on The Troubles. And I am certainly glad I did. I am a big fan of Irish Noir (Ken Bruen, Tana French, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Alex Barclay, Declan Burke) but only tolerate the routine violence to enjoy the prose. Here with McKinty, I have finthe-cold-cold-ground-adrian-mckinty1ally found a great noir writer who gives the Irish experience without detailing all the gore.

It is 1981 in Northern Ireland, and Belfast is on the verge of outright civil war. Soldiers, riots, bombings. And in the midst of it all, a serial killer of gay men. Poor Sean Duffy, a young and Catholic detective in a Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, is trying to personally survive as he uncovers a smart plot of deceit and false clues.

The setting and the characters are written superbly. You know you have a winner when you like the protagonist and cheer him/her on – even when they do foolish things like drink to excess when the killer is headed his way or forget to check for bombs under his car! You will really enjoy this series. Start with this one if you haven’t read any before

My rating 5 of 5

Asian Mysteries — The Ville Rat / Tokyo Kill

Though we have an abundance of Asian American focused mysteries today, that has not always been the case, of course. One of the first detectives I read (I loved the movies, too!) was the Charlie Chan character established in 1925 by Earl derr Biggers. Biggers went on vacation in Hawaii and came up with one of the most popular detectives of all time. To Biggers, the Chan character was a major step away from the “yellow peril” stereotypes of Chinese characterization in popular literature of the time as exemplified by Fu Manchu, among others. After all Chan was quite Americanized and displayed wisdom and benevolence.

The Chan films and books today are typically seen in a negative light –the series did use a white actor in “yellowface” to portray Chan and the books are full of racist stereotyping. The reaction is so strong that the four-dozen Charlie Chan films are rarely shown, even on classic movie channels.

Fortunately, we have very intelligent and culturally savvy mysteries on Asian to choose from today. The door to Asian mysteries was opened by Biggers and has been kicked off its hinges by authors such as S.J. Rozan (P.I. novels featuring Lydia Chin in NY City), Lisa See (a trilogy of detective novels exploring US/China relations with her cop heroine, Liu Hulan) and John Burdett (Police detective/ Buddhist Sonchai Jitpleecheep in Bangkok, Thailand), among many others.

Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet takes us to modern Japan where art dealer turned private investigator Jim Brodie tackles a case for a 96-year-old WWII veteran, worried because two of his former comrades were recently murdered. This is the second in the Jim Brodie series, after Japantown. Lancet is American and has lived in Japan for over 25 years and thus conveys well the culture, the country and the people. Chinese Triads, spies, WWII atrocities and expatriates! It is all packaged in a fast paced, mesmerizing novel – if you want to learn about Japan while enjoying a good story, this is your book.

One of my favorite series is Korean and takes place in the 1970’s. Martin Limon just released his 10th book called The Ville Rat. Limón retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea, and with his knowledge, Limon writes a treasure-trove of Korean history and army life. A young Korean woman dressed in a traditional chima-jeogori is found strangled to death on the frozen banks of the Sonyu River with only a calligraphed poem in her sleeve. CID Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom are called in by the KNP to investigate since their job is to liaise with Korean law enforcement on matters that may implicate 8th Army American servicemen.

Limon writes about a time and place which I had no prior experiences with – one of the most pleasing features of a mystery to me is to travel where I have not been before though the pages of the books. Like Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet, this procedural mystery excels at that. Neither of these two books are literary masterpieces, but they do tell a good, realistic story with characters you like and believe in. I have read all of Limon’s Korean series and loved all but one or two in the middle where he veered into too much mysticism for my mystery-loving heart. For a cheap trip to Japan or South Korea, give them a try. My Rating – 4 out of 5 for both Tokyo Kill and The Ville Rat.

 

 

 

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

For some reason I usually avoid mysteries set in Ireland. I guess I feel that they are too dark and foreboding and that there is just too much violence and too few realistic women. I have read Benjamin Black, Tana French and Stuart Neville — all with heavy drinking and heavy soul searching but not eFeatured imagenough thoughtful detecting by likable characters.

I am glad to find a series set in Ireland which I thoroughly enjoyed — Adrian McKinty’s Detective Sean Duffy is my kind of cop. Clever, funny, thoughtful and believable. McKinty is a fine writer who makes the writing seem readable while at the same time uniquely profound. He gives us complex female characters as well as male characters which we admire and want to follow! How daring!

It is Belfast 1985, so the plot does involve “the troubles.” Also gun runners, arms dealers, MI5 and a rogue American agent with a fake identity. McKinty gives us a genuine mystery with twists and turns while teaching us about those times in Ireland. Detective Duffy isn’t at all innocence with his drugs and self-loathing tenancies, but he’s a loyal boss and friend. And he is a good cop.

I am definitely going back to read the first three in this Sean Duffy series, the first being The Cold, Cold Ground from 2012. There is another expected out in 2016 as well, called Rain Dogs. My rating — 4 of 5.