The Sacred Sands: a novel
Sacred Sands by Vahan Zanoyan is a fantastic political thriller dealing with the secretive world of oil trading, the most powerful industry in the world. The plot revolves around James Blackburn, an energy consultant who is tasked to infiltrate deep into OPEC to expose a vast conspiracy to bring down the US and world economies and to further destabilize the already fragile Middle East. As Blackburn deals with backroom negotiations, he gets an upfront view of the collusion between OPEC and world governments. To further complicate things, Blackburn falls in love with an OPEC assistant as well as another woman, and his romance has the potential to jeopardize his mission.
Zanoyan, himself an energy consultant, writes a very plausible scenario. While this book has more to do with negotiations between various actors, it is nevertheless an enjoyable read. Because of that, the plot may seem like it’s moving at a slow pace; however, character development is very strong. Each major character has their own agenda, and it is sometimes hard to figure out what it is until the end.
Reading Zanoyan’s book, I learned a great deal about the secret world of the oil industry, how its deals are struck, and how OPEC manipulates various governments for its own benefit. I would highly recommend Sacred Sands to anybody who is fascinated with the behind-the-curtain world of politics and industry.
A Patchwork of Old Spies
A drug trade operation appears to go awry and two undercover agents, Gunther and Heidi, head to Chipley Island. Zach and Jodie Warren, two of the fourteen retired espionage experts who call the island their home, are not too thrilled that the agents have chosen their haven for protection. Yet they, along with the remaining retired spies, get involved to piece together the truth behind Operation Seagull. There are way too many unrelated clues and a slew of red herrings, however, which call for intense problem solvinga time for Jodie to resurrect the program from her old Patches mission. But trying to figure out “how a South American drug business, a Far Eastern gang, and…a Russian op named Polaris,” fit together, for example, is far more complicated and extremely riskier than the retirees thinkespecially when they’re invaded.
With a slew of published works under her belt, Gini Andings latest espionage novel takes readers into the strange and mysterious world of retired spiesat least the ones on Chipley Island. Once again featuring husband and wife agents, Zach and Jodie, as principal characters (from A Case for Old Spies), Anding includes a large, but intricately designed, cast of retired spies and other colorful protagonists and antagonists set within the confines of a tight community. Of particular interest is the way Anding punctuates each character (spy or otherwise) with his/her detailed credentials in bold lettering throughout her third-person narrative. That writing style not only helps readers wrap their heads around Anding’s hefty cast, but also identifies how each character is related to the other in some fashion.
As Anding continues to introduce each cast member, she slowly, but deftly, unfolds her storyline. Key to plot building, Anding creates the most interesting character conversations. Intertwined with geopolitics and its behind-the-scene connections with intelligent activity, dialogues are filled with a combination of reality, bumbling lame comments, and ad nauseam yet hilarious statementsall compactly laced within black comedy and action-packed who’s-done-it, game-of-Clue-like adventure. In addition, Anding also keeps her narrative flowing by including cliffhangers at the close of chapters and a whole stream of unexpected scene changes.
There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that A Patchwork of Old Spies is one read that is truly an unforgettable one of its kind.
My first thought upon finishing Missing Mona was that it is well-tailored novel for those enthusiasts of crime drama novels. Readers outside of this genre may find themselves bored with the density of the book at times, but the story is nothing, if not engrossing. The bones of the plot were set up well: Tommy Cuda is a protagonist with almost nothing to lose, who goes out to rediscover himself, and the adventure he gets is a result of accidentally stumbling into an opportunity that was the consequence of being in the right place at the wrong time. Its the classic story of the inexperienced average Joe who gets swept up in a mystery more grand than he ever could have imagined. When Tommy decides to leave behind what he knows and heads toward Chicago, he picks up an attractive hitchhiker on the way who goes by the name of Mona, and she hires him as a private investigator in order to find someone for her. But theres a twist. When he wakes the next morning in the motel room where they had stayed for the night, all he has is a photograph of Mona with a message on the back that reads: Find Me Tommy M”.
A seemingly simple mystery, Missing Mona rather quickly turns into a complicated plot with strong political and monetary motives. Particularly as the unanswered questions start tying in together to paint the bigger picture of Tommy Cudas mysterious hitchhiker. The story gets convoluted at times, and I found that the overall timeline was not the easiest to follow. I lost track of how many days Tommy Cuda was actually in Chicago, and I think it was in reality a much shorter time frame than it felt while reading. That being said, the action was well-paced, which made for some exciting moments. I was definitely invested enough to want to find out where Klingler was driving this novel. And aside from a few minute inconsistencies, all major questions were addressed making the novel feel concluded.
Klinglers Chicago made me want to visit the city in Tommy Cudas world. It was exciting and gritty, and set up to be the perfect type of place for our protagonist to find some adventure. I think the character was able to live the life that epitomizes the notion of finding oneself. Tommy Cuda had beautiful girls, great music, an old car on the open road, and an enticing unsolvable mystery. I dont think he could have sought out a more drastic change from the monotony of the life he had.
The Schwarzschild Radius
After four months of dead-end searches, eighteen-year-old Rachel Wallen decides to take matters in her own hands to find her adopted sister, Olivia, who suddenly vanished out of thin air. Rachel heads to the homeless shelter, where Olivia used to be a volunteer counselor, and is admitted under a pseudonym in the hope that she can gain leads. A staff member shares disturbing news that Olivia had been making porn flicks just before she vanished. Even more disturbing, Rachel learns that Olivia has a twin, Achara, who is living in Thailand and trapped in the sex trade. Discovering the instant messages between the twins on Olivia’s PC, Rachel assumes Olivia’s identity to continue the conversation since she realizes that Olivia is Achara’s only means of escape. While Olivia apparently took care of Achara’s passport prior to her disappearance, Achara needs more than $2000 to get Achara to New York. Rachel’s decision to take a job at a local adult emporium to obtain fast cash leads her not only closer to solving Olivia’s whereabouts, but also into a deadly snare.
Rising and award winning author Gustavo Florentin has pulled out all the literary stops to create his second novel. Florentin’s third person narrative is a combination of well-developed characters, nonstop conflicts, and rich contrast. Florentin’s use of irony, undoubtedly, is a key literary tool that is prevalent throughout his plot. Good examples are found in his characters, such as Rachel and Father Massey. Rachel, who is a highly intelligent Ivy League student, acts like she left her brains behind when she decides to work in the sex industry. And then there is Father Massey whose life is not as holy as one expects. Florentin has a whole slew of characters, many who take on supporting roles and are deftly interwoven in scenes that alternate from chapter to chapter. Scenes shift between Rachel’s sleuthing, her communication with Achara via the internet, Fr. Massey and his dastardly deeds, Detective McKenna’s investigation, the enslaved Olivia, and the infamous Webmaster, just to name a few.
Amid the alternating character scenes that are filled with constant un-clichéd twists, Florentin incorporates a plethora of red herrings a lineup of sleazy characters to throw readers off from zeroing in on the story’s main antagonist. While readers are madly trying to figure out who the real culprit is, Florentin makes sure to keep his themes alive. Certainly the heaviest theme not only centers on the sex trade, but on the pervasive sadomasochistic culture that accompanies this industry. A second theme focuses on family dynamics, such as Rachel’s opinion of her parents and how she thinks they shower more love and attention to Olivia than Rachel. Another example is Detective McKenna whose ardent search to find and return Olivia to her heart sickened parents is a constant reminder of his strained relationship with his estranged daughter.
A great read, which is guaranteed to win an award, The Schwarzschild Radius is a top-rate thriller that is not only gripping and fast paced, but also a superb blend of crime with a touch of sci-fi.
The Paris Protection
The Secret Service is in some ways like the NSA, CIA or some other government lesser known acronym group: just about everyone knows who they are, but they dont really know exactly how they operate or what they do. The Secret Services job is to protect the President of the United States 24/7, no matter what it takes. Their lives are always on the line for this one person. But what does this truly unique job entail?
The premise for The Paris Protection seems somewhat mundane and ordinary: a terrorist group has infiltrated the hotel where the United States President is staying and plans to assassinate her. They are fully confident in their success, while the Secret Service knows the job they have to do.
Abigail Clarke has done a lot of work – as a state prosecutor, US Senator, and governor of Virginia – and sacrificed much to become one of the most powerful and important people on the planet; many say THE most important. President Clarke does not take her job lightly and has very little free time. She is now in Paris for a summit meeting as she hopes to bring the prickly subject of organized crime to the international stage and address it as a terrorist attack. For now, the days work is done and she is at her hotel carrying out various conference calls with important people back on US soil and around the world.
Maximillian Wolff, who once served on the Israeli Security Protection team when Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, has suffered much during his life and holds the United States accountable for its world domination, and with a huge and highly trained team of mercenaries, his plan is to remove the head of power and bring the US to its knees. His right hand man, Kazim Aslan, has spent his time as an insurgent soldier in Iraq who has lost loved ones because of the United States policies and wants their assassination plan to be just as successful. Maximillian also has a hero: Hannibal Barca who once brought Rome to its knees.
The Paris Protection is three-hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that is anything but ordinary and mundane. Devore skillfully takes the reader step by step through the attack, giving POVs from both sides and plenty of detail of tactics, weaponry, and skill. It is a gripping thriller at its best. Here and there, he provides some back story to his characters–again on both sides–that help the reader understand what is fueling their desire and drive. Maximillian goes into numerous contemplations of how Hannibal handled certain situations to help them in their current one, which is juxtaposed with Secret Service Agents contemplating their skill and training and what past agents have done in similar situations.
It is the ideal blend of action and story with plenty of well-researched details that keep the reader glued to the page. The story passes throughout the hotel with some impressive battles, eventually leading down deep into the haunting Paris catacombs that serves as a terrifying arena for a chase scene. The Paris Protection is one of those books where you dont know who will make it out alive and how its really going to end; a perfect example of the thriller genre.
Strong Light of Day (Caitlin Strong Novels)
Fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong is back in her seventh novel to face a Cold War era problem first faced by her father while he served as a Ranger himself. One of the few female leads in the thriller category, Caitlin has boots that few others can fill.
In Strong Light of Day, Caitlin finds herself investigating thirty missing high-school kids on a field trip, including the son of her romantic partner. Caitlin and Cort Masters have developed a good relationship, even though their fathers were on opposite sides of the law, and she sees herself as a mother to his two boys. Additionally, she’s managing a case of dead cattle that were cleaned to the bone by whatever killed them. As the story progresses both Caitlin and reader learn more about her father, and a previous case involving Russians during the Cold War that’s coming back as a renewed attempt by particular segments of the current Russian government to devastate the US in a terrorist attack.
Caitlin’s personal connection to her current cases add to the pressure she faces in trying to juggle apparently competing issues, and today’s current issues with Russia make this a timely story. As the ongoing back story of her father, Jim Strong, and Boone Masters, Cort’s father, is teased out, the reader gets a deeper appreciation for just what made Caitlin the Ranger she is today.
Land is an experienced and skilled author who keeps finding new highs to reach, and Caitlin Strong is at her best in Strong Light of Day. The previous books are not required to enjoy Strong Light of Day, but any new reader does themselves a disservice if they don’t add them to their to-be-read pile.