Home by Harlan Coben

Myron Bolitar is back!! It has been 5 years since we got to hang out with Myron and Win as they quipped and joked their way through an investigation. This time Win calls on Myron for help in the 10 year old kidnapping of his then 6 year-old nephew. Win has a lead in London, and of course, things get sticky.

homeFor those who are new to Harlan Coben, he has this wonderful series with Myron, a sports agent of sorts who helps clients and friends out of problems – think Jack Reacher with a great sense of humor. Coben also has 15 stand-alone thrillers which are good, but his Myron Bolitar series is where he excels.

This series reminds me of Louise Penny’s Gamache series combined with Robert Parker’s original series staring Spenser. Like with Penny, you quickly grow to love the characters who come back time and again. Esperanza and Big Cyndi (female wrestlers and Myron partners) make an appearance in Home, as well as Myron’s mom, dad, and nephew Mickey who has his own 3-book YA series now by Coben. And then there is Win, Myron’s mega-rich college buddy who I would really want as a friend if I had problems. Or even if I didn’t!

I don’t want to give the impression that the books are light or silly. The story line is quite serious, but the characters are enjoyable and sassy like Parker’s Spenser and Hawk. This plot is well played out and challenging to fully guess how it will go. You could not ask for a better book in this genre.

Coben’s stand-alone thrillers are good, some really good, but he finds his true form with  Myron, Win and the rest of the cast. If you are new to the Bolitar series, which has 11 books in it now, you might want to start with Deal Breaker, his first from 1995. Lucky you!

My rating 5 of 5.

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Run You Down by Julia Dahl

Julia Dahl’s latest and second novel which centers on the Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods and people in the New York area, Run You Down, is just as eye opening and well written as her first, Invisible City. Our protagonist is a  Jewish reporter raised by a Christian dad after her Jewish mother left them, who unknowingly gets embroiled in murders in this very closed and secretive 23014620community. As Rebekah learns about Hasidic Jewish customs and life, so does the reader.

Rebekah’s missing mother tells her tale in alternating chapters as her daughter runs around New York trying to solve the mystery of a woman who may or may not have been murdered. It seems everyone from the police to the Jewish community have closed ranks to keep the truth from coming to light.

The main character, Rebekah, is young and suffering from depression and anxiety. She constantly questions herself. So much so that often I wanted to yell at her to knock it off and get serious about what was going on — just as I would for any 25 year old woman going through these life changing events. Dahl writes real characters involved in very interesting times. This mystery has it all — plot, setting and well-done characters.

My rating 5 of 5.

** To Read or Not to Read has 8 new posts to help you decide what’s next on your to-read-list. Check out the Archives for To Read or Not to Read for all the old posts.

 

 

 

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

I am quite happy I discovered Michael Koryta! He has two series with PIs as protagonists and another 5 stand-alone thrillers beyond Those Who Wish Me Dead. I anticipate a great deal of enjoyable reading ahead of me. Koryta was the youngest winner of the annual St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America “Best First Private Eye Novel” contest in 2003. It seems to have taken me a while to get to him, but it is always a plus to find so many new books to read.51WsgkE90ML._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Those Who Wish Me Dead is a thriller involving a 14 year old boy who has witnessed a brutal murder. His protective custody, while the police search for the two killers, gives him a new name and places him in a Montana wilderness survival program for troubled teens. This entire gripping book produces adrenaline and wide-eyed reading!

Fortunately, the wilderness program leaders, Ethan and Allison, impart their survival knowledge to the teens, but the tracking killers slaughter everyone in their wake. Again, the detailed violence is a bit too much for me, and some illogical decisions put me off a bit. But overall it was a fun read – one of those books to read straight through on a solitary evening. Koryta won the Best Novel Barry Award in 2015 for this book. I will be returning to his older novels for more thrills!

My rating –  4 of 5

Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

Berney’s psychological mystery reminds me of Kate Atkinson and Laura Lippman. Though not compelling enough to be a thriller, Long and Faraway Gone is not a typical mystery either since the only murder happened 25 years ago in a robbery of a movie theater. Now, Wyatt, our PI hero, is asked to return to Oklahoma City, the setting of that crime, to solve a current harassment case.

At the same time another mystery across town of a missing girl (also from 25 years ago) is being reexamined by the sister of the missing girl. The crippling and shifting memories of these two unsolved crimes drags the two unconnected cases closer and closer. At least in the traumatic memories of both protagonists.

lou-berney-long-faraway-goneThere is a quiet darkness to this story – I can’t really say I enjoyed reading this book, though it will be one of those stories that I remember long after I have forgotten many other stories. It is well written and the characters are well drawn and believable…. At least until the ending when suddenly, both characters (the PI and the sister) remember details of their lives 25 years before! And of course, these details lead to the resolution of the cases.

I learned a great deal about Oklahoma City. But unless you plan to visit there, I am not sure that I can recommend this book over others. I liked Wyatt, and I hope to see him again in other mysteries where there actually is a mystery. Long and Faraway Gone was nominated for both the Anthony and the Barry Awards — but I can only rate it a 3 out 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

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Yet another Thriller is hyped as the “Next Gone Girl!” OK, I did like this book; it is fast paced and a page-tuner in the truest sense. And I really wanted to LOVE it as the topic is just to my liking – an abused woman on the run from police and bad guys who struggles to survive without ID or money as she moves around the US.

And Lisa Lutz clearly has some great ideas for just such a dilemma – how to steal or forge ID, where to work and sleep for free or at least cash, how to travel under the radar. Not an easy task in the techno world of today. Our heroine, Tanya, is frail emotionally, yet the necessity of survival keeps her alive and moving. You will definitely need a map of the US as you read this book!the-passenger-lisa-lutz

But (yes, there is a but), our 28 year-old Tanya can also pick locks with a paper clip(!!) and has the knowledge to dig Apache snare traps in the yard. Seriously. I would have indeed LOVED The Passenger IF Lutz had kept her survival escapade within the bounds of reasonableness! Too often Tanya would only stay alive for the next chapter due to outrageous skills or luck.

Another woman named Blue comes into the picture at one point and ends up saving Tanya in the end. Instead of Tanya saving herself, we have yet another unlikely and personally non-satisfying twist in the story.

There are many fun and clever twists in the book, but Lutz just misses the mark, unfortunately, by a few steps. Lutz is the author of the popular Spellman Files series which features a quirky young PI from a dysfunctional family. This book is more serious and more engaging than the Spellman books, and I did like the quick read.

This is the perfect book for a long air flight or a day on the beach. You will enjoy the Thriller “ride.” I hope Lutz continues to try her hand at Thrillers but leaves the “not likely” bits for the Spellman books.

My rating 4 stars out of 5

The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

When we first meet Philip Kerr’s character, Bernie Gunther, he is a left-leaning German police officer in the 1930s in Berlin. That was in March Violets, published in 1989. One knows Bernie is in for a stressful few years, but thanks to Kerr, we have had Bernie Gunther adventures from 1934 through to 1956 with the latest publication, The Other Side of Silence.51bDmJKVI7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Let me start out by saying that this is hands-down my favorite historical mystery series. Kerr gives us a look at Nazi Germany, its power, its weaknesses and finally its destruction from the eyes of Bernie as he navigates the hell he has been thrown into. This series is a gem. If you haven’t yet read the 11 books in the series, you are one lucky reader!

The Other Side of Silence is set in the French Riviera in 1956, and Bernie is still alive – no small feat. Usually Kerr writes about Nazi Germany, but this time the story is really about Great Britain and East Germany and what came to be called “The Cambridge Five,” English spies who worked for the Soviets.

As Kerr likes to place real people in his stories, we meet Somerset Maugham this time. Maugham pulls poor Bernie (who is finally at peace working as the concierge at a local deluxe hotel) into clandestine activities he wants no part of. But alas, Bernie has never been one to shirk the action. I love Bernie’s voice as usual, battered by history and hopeful by nature.

This Cold War espionage novel dwells on vengeance and revenge (as Bernie explains, there is a critical difference). The novel has quite the nod to John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in plot development, and without giving too much away, let’s just say you have to be on your best game to stay equal to Kerr’s quick developing action in the second half of the book. Like LeCarre’s Spy, The Other Side of Silence, starts off slow and builds to a denouement that thrills.

51PU4oLabYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_One can read the Bernie Gunther series in any order after the first three – March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem (published as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir in 1992), because Kerr jumps around in history with Bernie mostly in Germany or Europe, but in other novels he does wash up in Havana and Buenos Aires as well.

Bernie will return in 2017 with the 12th book, Prussian Blue; and I cannot wait. My rating 5 of 5.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Every now and then I like to read a thriller. Not a mystery where I use logic and analysis to decide who-dun-it. Rather I like to get on the roller coaster and ride for a short time with my heart in my throat, thrilled to the max.

Harlan Coben is the master of the thriller. Some would say his books are formulaic, and actually, I do agree with that. But what a fun formula! Coben had written seven consecutive #1 New York Times bestseller thrillers, and this one makes number eight.

Fool Me Once is a fast paced ride with all the necessary elements to keep you trying to guess what is going on. The novel opens at Maya’s husband’s funeral. He has been killed while with Maya during a robbery gone bad. The police arrest the bad guys and close the case, but Maya is sure that these men are not guilty. She decides to handle her own investigation, but then Maya sees her husband walking across the nanny-cam video used to watch her child’s nanny. Uh-oh…

Coben said in an interview that he wanted “to write a normal, intelligent woman” character – and he certainly has done so in Maya, a Special Ops pilot who has all the makings of a more classy Lizbeth Salander (The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo)!

News stories are reporting that Julia Roberts will produce and star in the movie adaptation. Apparently, she read the book in two days and solicited the part of Maya. I think that Fool Me Once is this year’s Gone Girl or Girl on a Train. Only this time the Girl is a heroine you can cheer for.

I love the twists and turns Coben puts in his thrillers. And yes, his novel plots are very similar to each other. But I am willing to take this wild ride every now and again, even if I know what I am in for.

Coben also wrote the Myron Bolitar series about a sports agent detective. If you haven’t read that series, start with number one, Deal Breaker, which won the 1996 Anthony Award in the category “Best Paperback Original.” I loved this series and fans will be happy to note that another Myron book will come out in September 2016, after nothing in that series since 2011.

  My rating: 4 out of 5

The Good Cop by Brad Parks

With Parks fourth book about Carter Ross, ace reporter for a Newark, NJ, newspaper, I found a predictable mystery – but who cares! Parks is funny, clever and entertaining as he takes his hero in search of a cop killer. The attraction in Park’s novels is Ross and his somewhat unrealistic but still fun adventures.

At first the police say that the dead cop committed suicide but Ross thinks differently. After all, why would a man with a job he loved, a beautiful and adoring family, and plans to go to Disneyland suddenly kill himself – and in the police station shower nonetheless!

The minor characters are some of the book’s high points with an intern who Ross uses and abuses, a boss who wants to have Ross’ baby and sources who are just short of ridiculous. The story is original even though it is the typical reporter who solves the crime story – a summer read to make you smile.

Parks’ debut, Faces of the Gone (2009), won the Nero Award for Best American Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First Mystery. In doing so, Parks became the first author in the combined 60-year history of the Nero and the Shamus to win both awards for the same book. And The Good Cop won the Shamus Award for Best Novel in 2014.

I am going to go back and read all the Carter Ross series (there are 6 as of today). If you like to take a break sometimes from the violence and dark side of mystery novels, give Brad Parks a chance to amuse you with his fine writing.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Night Life by David Taylor

New York City, 1954 – this is where David Taylor takes us in his first novel, Night Life. A Noir mystery that gives us great plot that balances well with character and setting. We get some really fun reality-based characters such as Roy Cohn and even a bit part from J. Edgar Hoover because this is the Commie-witch hunt 1950’s. Part spy novel, part mystery, part historical fiction, this is a first class mystery.

Seldom do I find a book that captures me like this novel did. Our cop hero, Michael Cassidy, is the son of a Russian immigrant who now is a famous Broadway producer. He is a heavy drinking, not much talking detective who is a throwback to the Noir PIs of old, except that in Night Life the beautiful women aren’t bimbos but rather intelligent characters who help move the story along.

When a Broadway dancer is found tortured to death in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment that has been ransacked, Cassidy, the CIA, the FBI and the mob are all on the hunt for something that the killer wanted. The FBI and the CIA were battling out power and boundaries during the 50’s, and Taylor catches the feel of the times.

The book is not overly violent like many Noir crime stories, nor does it portray Cassidy as excessively hard-edged. While I do like Noir mysteries, even those who do not will like the balance of this novel. The story is engrossing and the dialogue believable—a detailed and complex book about NYC and the Red Scare in the early 1950’s. There is even some well-needed humor with Cassidy’s loyal partner, Orso, who often reminds Cassidy that he threw a dirty cop out a window – thus making Cassidy one of the only honest cops in NYC.

There is a bit of a cinematic quality to the book since Taylor used to write for television and movies in Hollywood. But this just means that the story moves along and the reader gets a first class ride for their money. A second Michael Cassidy book will be published on April 1, 2016.

My rating is 5 out of 5