Meet Keller. He’s a hitman who has built a new identity for himself. So why does he accept one last job? Because it promises a chance to play private eye for a bit. Keller is tasked with taking out the lover of a cheating wife, but it’s up to him to find out just who is schtupping the wife. Keller’s back…but does he still have what it takes to get the job done?
Lawrence Block resurrects Keller after three years away, adding a wrinkle to the man’s life by making his new case a mystery. It allows Block to dive headfirst into all the noir trappings he so enjoys, from the classic fedora to an old-school investigation straight out of the ’30s.
One of Block’s greatest strengths is his ability to imbue those little twists and turns that keep the story interesting with a real-world feeling. The bad luck isn’t contrived, it’s convincing, and you never feel like he’s rigging the game in favor of his characters. That’s rarer than you’d expect, and it adds tension and style to Keller’s mission. (Though, admittedly, the ending feels a bit tidy.)
Keller’s Fedora is all too short but fun while it lasts.
When we left Nicki McJacob in Regret Things, trouble had stormed through her front door at dinnertime, ruining her familys dinner plans. Now Sin and Nicki are back, and wherever they go, a few things follow. Guns. Money. Bad guys in good suits. In To Guns, we meet the McJacob family two years past that dinner debacle, safe but unhappy in a European paradise, missing the American dream they left behind.
As Nicki considers moving the family back to a small town nestled into the Colorado Rockies, risks of coming stateside be damned, little brother Sin is hooking up with the synergistically named Sindy. Suddenly, its looking like an idyllic time for a family reunion.
But Matt Ingwalson isnt that type of author, and this isnt that type of book. This is a guns-up book, a chase and showdown type of book. A world weary hit man is hot on Nickis heels. Then, gun-happy Sin steps into the wrong back-country domestic dispute. All this escalates into a classic Western gun battle that is at times hilarious, and at times high-throttle, but always memorable.
Sin and Nicki are a great combination of stealth and sass. Gun-loving, ever-brooding, smooth Sin is always an enigma, and Nicki stands as his flamboyant and unapologetic opposite. Ingwalson also brings to life Sins love interest Sindy, a self-proclaimed skater girl who manages to hold her own with the rough and tumble Kenfax and McJacob clans.
Ingwalson once again uses his trademark smooth, noir style to draw the reader into the novella while not distracting from the action at hand. To Guns is written in a novella style as it follows the action of this single chase to Colorado, so it is great for thriller fans looking for a quick read to pick up and breeze through.
The Nash Criterion
Obama’s term has come to an end, and Elaine York has stepped up to the plate as the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. She soon finds herself compromised, however, as a coup, seemingly initiated by a faction of the military, divides the nation, and America descends into civil war.
Events set in motion by a genius hacker named Fawkes, after he has unleashed a super-virus, have triggered the chaos. Once again, a team of FBI and CIA agents find themselves pitted against the forces of evil, including many within their own government. This story, book four of the Intel 1 series, follows on from The Anonymous Signal, in which an FBI cyber crimes unit went off-reservation with their crime-fighting methodology, and the chief and members of his team were forced to defend themselves and their actions in a military-style trial. However, this novel does function as a standalone, and can be successfully read as such.
Feds John Savas and Rebecca Cohen have to prove themselves worthy of their earlier exoneration, as they attempt to aid the ailing president. Meanwhile, a crack team, including super cybersecurity girl Angel Lightfoote, work on deciphering a secret code which obscures the unpublished work of brilliant mathematician John Nash. Once cracked, it promises to defeat a hidden enemy and restore peace and harmony to the nation. As if this weren’t enough, both groups must battle a divisive contingent of the military, pledging allegiance to this opposing set of puppet-masters, with sophisticated modern weaponry and advanced computational power at their disposal.
The author continues to develop his original creations, an interesting and quirky cast of non-stereotypical misfits, but, in places, paints quite a broad sweep when it comes to character perspective. Though successful in initial chapters when were inside Sava’s and York’s heads, the storytelling becomes less focalized as we switch between the two interwoven plotlines to spend time with the secondary group. It feels like if the reader were to be privy to the interior monologues of all of the characters and their motivations, a much stronger connection could be made, along with a sense of the cast having been more fully-developed. In this instance, I believe this series could be propelled into a league alongside tech thrillers written by masters such as Barry Eisler.
The author’s jargon and technical know-how is believable, as is the convincing fight choreography. All of this, along with the complex and intelligent plotting, makes for an extremely satisfying and page-turning read, and the incorporation of several hot politic topics and fascinating conspiracy theories about elite shadowy governments make it all the more compelling. Erec Stebbins is definitely one to watch, a good writer who just gets better and better.
Death by Romance
Gordon Taylor is murdered right before Christmas, and right before his company makes its initial public offering. His wife, Jessica, is devastated, but alarmed that her partnership with Romance, Ltd., makes her a suspect in her husbands murder, along with many other supporting characters.
Years before the murder, Jessica’s friend, Mavis, concocts a business plan for a lucrative, investor-driven matchmaking service. She calls it Romance, Ltd. Mavis uses Jessica as her investment, using her resources to school her in philanthropy and high culture, with the aim of putting Jessica in Gordon Taylors path. The company’s goal is that the investment marries for money, and the investors get a cut of the spoils when the marriage eventually sours. But what if the investors are impatient, and the marriage isnt souring fast enough? It just might be a motive for murder.
Jessicas clear-eyed earnestness is admirable, if only a bit naïve. Jessica knows that Mavis makes money through their partnership after Gordon Taylors estate is settled, but doesn’t see this as a reason to suspect her. Jessica blames herself for her husbands murder, and continues to forgive Mavis over and over again for being a single-minded, greedy hag the whole time.
A shady lawyer and some investors with mob ties kept me guessing, and threw Ryan, the cop on the case, off the trail. Like many crime novels, the evidence points to multiple characters as being the murderer, but it was almost the one you least expected.
Death by Romance is short, simple and straightforward. The characters are deep and interesting. Jessica’s grief is the readers grief. Maviss anxiety is the readers anxiety. Ryan, the cop with whom readers will spend the most time, loves his cat and loves to cook, has a dismal relationship with his son, and can’t seem to let go of his late wife, Mary. Ryan’s vibrant personality will make readers feel like theyre solving the mystery right alongside him. While there wasn’t a ton of action, some excellent sleuthing made the ride entertaining.
The Vermeer Conspiracy
Sabrina is a young Latina from Chicago who has beaten the odds at every turn to make a success of herself. Now shes at Yale on a scholarship and nearing graduation. Yale hasnt been a cakewalk either. Her freshman year she was raped by a professor, which she has kept secret from everyone, even her roommate, Danielle. The two couldnt have been more differentSabrina, dark, a little heavy, and an astronomy major who loves math, and Danielle, a willowy blonde majoring in art history with a special interest in Johannes Vermeer. Still, they become fast friends. But Danielles mentor, Prof. Verhaast, the foremost expert on Vermeer, was the very man who had raped Sabrina. When Danielle suddenly disappears, Sabrina keeps a few things of Danielles from police so she can solve the mystery herself. What she discovers is that Danielle has been trying to prove Vermeer was not the actual artist of his famous pieces. Its dangerous information. There have been other mysterious disappearances, all seemingly connected to Danielles Vermeer theory which, if proven, would be ruinous to Verhaast. But there is morea strange group that seems to have a hold over Verhaast and a convent with strange secrets. Can Sabrina really figure all of this out and perhaps even save Danielle?
Author Eytan Halaban has written a real thriller of a mystery with some wonderful art history thrown in to make a most interesting read. The writing is crisp and the pacing fast, characters are well-rounded and credible, the premise fascinating and completely believable, especially in the deft hands of Halaban. Its clear hes done good research, and yet he shows great imagination as well. The ending, however, is a bit weak and doesnt quite match the level of writing the rest of the book exhibits.
Finding Claire Fletcher
On the day that Detective Connor Parks has jeopardized his career for killing a man, he meets Claire Fletcher in a bar and spends one night with her, catching a glimpse of the girl she once was. Trouble is Claire Fletcher is no longer that girl. When she vanishes from his bed leaving an address, he tries to follow up for a chance to re-encounter this intriguing woman only to discover shocking news. The enigmatic Claire has been missing for years. As his work life disintegrates he sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Claire becomes as ethereal to Parks as the ghost of whom she used to be is to Claire herself due to the man who has unmade her.
Returning to the living hell that is her new life, Claire is overcome with guilt for endangering the man who has woken a part of herself she had thought was long since dead. The question is how will she find the resolve to ensure no one else loses their life in her name?
From the opening first person narration of the mystery woman herself, or a version of her, the question hooks are planted that lead us into the story which is really four separate story lines cleverly shuffled. As each one ends on a crisis point or question we alternate to the next which deftly pulls us along as we search for the next big reveal. Major questions demand answers. Why isnt the most obvious and simple solution to Claires dilemma possible?
We follow Parks quest to find Claire from his third person narration as he weathers the situation with his career. Intermingled with all this we become a party to Claires current life as well as the history of her past which has led to now, when she still was wholly Claire Fletcher.
This gripping tale of psychological abuse is realistic and well-written. At times, I felt my breath become tight as I empathized with Claires ordeal, which is a testament to the books inherent craft. Clearly much research on trauma had been undertaken to underpin the heroines motivations. Dark it may be, but not gratuitous. Part way through however I became disappointed when Id thought Id figured out who Claires abuser was, but I had just been led into a skillful trap by this talented author who had sent me off down a blind alley, laying a trail of pseudo clues that had me fixing on how smart I was.
I finished the book and remained in the world Lisa Regan had created for a while. Its always a good sign when a story lingers. Its even better when you discover an author you enjoy and want to hear more from then find out there are several other works to encounter.