Run, Hide, Die by Ian W. Sainsbury
This is what an action novel is supposed to read like. Jimmy Blue is the alternate personality of Tom Lewis. Tom is mentally damaged after surviving a bullet to the head when he was a child. His speech is slow and his IQ very low. Jimmy Blue is an angel of vengeance who is everything Tom is not—fast, brilliant, and driven to make a difference in the world. It's weird that the two men inhabit the same body and I feel bad for Tom having to deal with the aftermath of Jimmy Blue’s crusade against violent criminals.
The police, quite naturally, think Jimmy Blue is a criminal himself and seem determined to protect other murderers from him. After a particularly successful bit of vengeance in London, Blue decides it’s time to escape to the U.S. The problem is that the cops are looking for him, so he takes passage with a shady ship’s captain who is even shadier than he suspected. The results is a book that’s packed with action from beginning to end.
I do think there is one problem with the ending, but I can’t state what is it without giving away the conclusion of the story. And it wasn’t enough to even slightly damage my enjoyment of the tale.
Infestation by William Meikle
An elite military group looking for Russian spies finds a totally unexpected invasion of crab like creatures coming up from the deep crust of the earth. The action is nonstop from start to finish, with plenty of credible mistakes made as the soldiers try to keep themselves from becoming the monsters’ next meal. There’s not a lot of character development here, just shoot-them-up action as thousands upon thousands of the little monsters check out the surface world.
Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck
Greig Beck has a gift for making whole primordial worlds come to life. This one can be found in Antarctica deep in a cave network where there are just a ton of nasty surprises. The excuse for the expedition is the loss of a tycoon when his plane crashes into the ice over Antarctica, but the real reason for the expedition seems to be a quest for oil on the seventh continent. Unfortunately for the scientists and military men sent on the expedition, there’s a whole world down beneath the ice and it’s filled with hostile creatures. And just in case we forget that it’s Beck writing this, there are also hostile humans determined to make things even more deadly than this bizarre aberration of nature has already made things.
As you read, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a whole underground world. So it’s not just the big bad monster that stalks the heroes from beginning to end (and believe me, that would have made this book super creepy and scary enough), but it’s a host of other predators that live and compete in this isolated ecosphere and are only too happy to discover if humans make a tasty treat. Every chapter is filled with suspense and danger—a problem made more acute by the impact of the stress on the various members of the group making people untrustworthy just at the moment that they most need to pull together.
If I have a complaint, and I’m not certain that I do, I think it is in the discovery of a sort of proto civilization—the granddaddy of all our ancient civilizations—beneath the Antarctic ice. This civilization provides a tremendous amount of interesting information on the big bad monster, but it’s that information that bothered me. Much of it comes in the form of carvings that the archaeologist in the group translates with remarkable ease. I’m not saying he instantly knows everything he’s seeing, but it’s my understanding that ancient writing of this sort is not easy to decipher and takes a long time to actually carve into the stone. And I’m not certain that much of the carvings (tracing the journey of two brothers ten thousand years earlier) could have been written this way. Remember, Jules Verne only had Arne Saknussemm leave his initials and the date to mark his journey—not whole accounts of the adventures of two ancient heroes. So, I don’t think that part of the story holds up, but it is a very small complaint in a long and exciting adventure.
State of Chaos by J.K. Franks
Sometimes you just get lucky. J.K. Franks’ novel, Midnight Zone, looks absolutely fascinating to me, but I decided to start with this first book in the series to make sure that I knew everything I was supposed to when I started the next book. Now, all I can say is, “WOW!” State of Chaos is an amazing ride that had me hooked from the very beginning straight through to the final page.
This book has everything a good thriller needs and a heck of a lot more. There’s a war between two rival AIs. There is first contact with an alien species. There’s a plot to create a coup within the U.S. government which will have the unavoidable side effect of killing many millions of people. And there are a few decent people dragged into the plots and conflicts that are trying desperately to keep Armageddon from happening.
On top of all of that, Franks has clearly thought very carefully about all the issues involved and pulled together a highly credible setting. These are events I could imagine happening in the modern U.S., which is quite an accomplishment since it involves two AIs, aliens, and a lot of high-tech break throughs.
The book is called a Cade Rearden Thriller, and frankly Cade, with his military training and multiple personalities is a great character, but there’s nothing in this first book to make you think he’s the only main character—i.e. the character the whole series will be built on. That’s because the rest of the cast from the friendly AI, Doris, to the teenagers she recruits to help her fight the war, to the handful of critical military personnel and scientists fighting to save humanity, are also great characters. I hope very much that they appear in the next book as well.
State of Chaos is an amazing experience. If you like high octane thrillers, strap on your seatbelt and give this novel a try.
I received this book for free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Midnight Zone by J. K. Franks
At the start of the Midnight Zone, the world is a more fragile place thanks to the AI war detailed in State of Chaos. America’s financial institutions have been damaged, confidence in government has been reduced, and the other nations of the world—enemies and allies alike—are moving to take advantage of America’s weakness. Unfortunately, those are only the obvious problems facing the United States as our heroes from the previous book become aware that the Janus AI from State of Chaos was only the opening gambit from a secret group of megalomaniacs determined to save the planet by reducing its population by a few billion people. And that’s not even the scary part!
These megalomaniacs have discovered that aliens—truly horrific monsters that inspired the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft—have visited our planet and they are trying to tap into the knowledge those creatures left behind to bring about their doomsday scenario. For most authors, that would be more than enough to drive his thriller, but J. K. Franks always takes his books to another level. He mixes modern science with Cthulhu and sends his teams to the remote corners of the world—the bottom of the Caribbean and the heart of Antarctica—to piece together the secret history of the planet’s first couple of billion years as his heroes try to understand how the monsters of the ancient past are returning to reek havoc today. Lots of authors have played with the Cthulhu mythos, but none that I am aware of have done anything like what Franks has pulled together in the Midnight Zone.
If you want a thriller that really pushes the boundaries of the imagination, get yourself a copy of the Midnight Zone.
These new Doc Savage novels have a nostalgic appeal to me. They are written in the pulp style of the original series and are true to the characterization of those early books with Doc and his five friends solving global problems through their brilliant intellects—at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening. Unfortunately, the only person who shows any intelligence in this novel is Doc Savage, himself. His friends go out of their way to prove they are incapable of bringing their allegedly keen minds to bear on their problems in any rational manner. They always jump into every situation with their fists, failing to think or plan ahead repeatedly even after the villains of the story have bested them multiple times. On top of this their dialogue is extraordinarily bad. It’s clearly intended to add comic relief to the story, but it succeeded only in making me cringe.
The villains are also subpar when compared to the typical Doc Savage experience. I just never understood why they were causing Doc and his men any trouble at all. And the way they finally cease to be a problem was totally unsatisfactory. There was no victory over evil—or if there was, it wasn’t Doc and his men who won the victory.
So that’s the bad part of the story, but it’s actually an enjoyable tale despite these problems. The mystery at the root of the novel—a missing civilization with interesting biblical roots—was worthy of the Doc Savage series. And the great buildup to the pythons of the title was completely satisfying. Doc Savage’s action scenes are also well done—it’s just the scenes involving the supporting cast that aren’t up to standard.
I read this book in its audio format. Narrator Michael McConnohie does a superb job of bringing the cast to life in the story. He has a range of voices that become instantly recognizable as the cast of the tale. On top of that, there are interesting interviews with author Will Murray at the end of the book that shed a lot of light on how Doc Savage was created. If you like the Doc Savage series, you’ll enjoy this book.
Skull Island by Will Murray
It’s been about fifteen years since I borrowed a bunch of Doc Savage novels from my brother-in-law and read all about the Man of Bronze’s exploits. Since then I’ve also seen him in the comics but while I’ve always found the character interesting, I haven’t felt inspired to pick up any more of his novels—until now. The idea of putting Doc Savage and King Kong together intrigued me and I found myself happily reading Skull Island but with increasingly mixed reaction.
First the good: the basic idea, Doc Savage coming on to the scene right after King Kong had been shot down off the Empire State Building was great. Learning that the Man of Bronze had encountered Kong on Skull Island was even better. I was quite ready for the story. Having a tale of Doc Savage as a young man before he has fully become Doc Savage was also fascinating. I thought Murray dealt with him pretty well and I liked the jungle scenes and the slow building tension to Kong’s arrival and the great climatic conclusion worked well too. In addition, the chance to learn about Savage’s parents and grandfather also went well with me. But all of this wasn’t enough to fully overcome the weaknesses of the tale.
So now the bad: The first third of the novel is three times longer than it should have been. The sea journey is interminable and I wanted to give up reading. The only reason I didn’t give up was I wanted to see Kong. Add to that that I thoroughly disliked the depiction of Savage’s father (whom I had never encountered before) and hated every moment the character appeared on the page. He was a major distraction from the good things happening in the story. Calling him a horse’s rear end is being too kind, but I kept getting the impression that the author thought he was both cool and all around wonderful. (I could be wrong, but that was my impression.) Finally, the opening scenes indicate that Savage is going to take Kong’s body home to Skull Island, so when the story ends well before that happens, I felt disappointed. Murray could easily have cut a hundred pages from the earlier part of the story and brought the reader back for Kong’s “funeral” for want of a better word. And I think that also would have been the point to give the reader some reason to believe that Kong wasn’t actually the last of his kind, or that he could, in fact be revived in some way back in his native home. The whiff of hope would have made for a happier ending and promised future stories.
So in sum, I’m glad I read the book. There are lots of good characters and a problem worthy of Doc Savage’s and King Kong’s peculiar skill sets. But with some quality editing this could easily have been a far better novel.
In Alpha Order by Author
Cut and Run by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
I had mixed feelings regarding choosing this book as one of my two free picks from Audible this month. On the one hand, it sounded funny, but kidney thieves? Really? That sounded terrible. So I slept on what to pick and decided to give it a try. The results are mixed.
First off, this is a book filled with energy and snappy dialogue. It actually is amazingly humorous and the characters—all the characters—are likable even though many are involved in particularly dastardly professions. The action moves along at an admirable pace and I wondered the whole time how the cast was going to get out of the mess they were in.
On the other hand, this is more of an audio play then an audio book and the cast is large enough that I had trouble telling some of the characters apart based only on their voices. The production quality is high, but voice distinction is not my greatest strength. Without the normal cues in an Audiobook like “Kate said” I was often deep into a scene before I was certain who was talking.
If you’re looking for something a bit outside the normal (and let’s face it, how many books have you read about kidney thieves in love), then you’ll find a lot to like about Cut and Run.
Encounters by Hep Aldridge
The best part of this book is the first couple of chapters in which the heroes deal with legal challenges that come from finding sunken treasure in an earlier novel. It’s important material presented in an interesting way. First, it tells us that the heroes are unethical, having failed to report the first approximately $2 billion worth of treasure they uncovered. It also shows that they are very smart and technically capable. You like them, even though they are essentially thieves. It was very well done.
Things proceed in the expected manner for the next roughly 60% of the novel—there’s plenty of action and interesting problems to overcome. Our heroes are searching for a mythical lost library in the jungles of Ecuador—a library that reportedly contains within it the secret of immortality among other treasures. Two groups (one a team of brutal Vatican mercenaries) are trying to catch our treasure hunters so they can torture the location of the library out of them before murdering them.
All of that comes to a close when they find the library a little more than halfway through the book. They defeat those pursuing them and encounter a possibly artificial intelligence left by aliens who have been visiting our planet for tens of thousands of years. At this point the adventure basically ends and we are presented with chapter after chapter of “seemingly too good to be true” wonders being presented to our treasure hunters. Cynic that I can be, I naturally thought that the alien’s efforts to get the team to help it fix its power supply were going to eventually reveal it to be a terrible threat to the planet. But no, that’s not what happens. Everything is sweetness and light for the rest of the novel except for a short ending that resolves the legal problems of the first couple of chapters.
Honestly, I can’t understand why Aldridge chose to end the story in this manner, other than he obviously is preparing for a sequel. Adventure stories thrive on conflict, and there frankly isn’t any for almost half the book. I enjoyed the first part, but I was definitely disappointed by the last several chapters.
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Beat the Reaper is a fast-paced, irreverent, amazingly fun novel about a former hit man who is trying to redeem his life as a doctor. The chapters are interspersed—one in the present where the doctor’s Witness Protection Program alias has just been blown and the other’s in the past explaining how he got in this position. It’s squeamishly violent, but still manages to keep a mostly light-hearted tone. The key to this seeming contradiction is in the great first person narrative voice of the doctor, brilliantly brought to life in the audio by Robert Petkoff. He’s irreverent, witty, and disturbingly honest, and it just makes him totally lovable no matter what he's actually doing in the narrative. I bought this novel on a whim and I’m very glad I did.
Primordia by Greig Beck
There are three points that make this “Lost World” adventure stand out above the pack of the many hidden-lands-where-dinosaurs-still-roam stories that I’ve read over the years. First, author Greig Beck made a credible effort to connect his Lost World to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel by having an ancestor of his hero discover the land of dinosaurs and communicate his discovery to Doyle inspiring the classic novel. Second, the role of the comet, Primordia, in making the Lost World accessible added a massive and necessary element of credibility to the whole concept. And finally, and by far the most important, Beck’s Lost World doesn’t need dinosaurs to be scary. Even the insects will terrify you—and I never remember a Lost-World-style story that didn’t need the T-Rex or the velociraptors to drive home that the heroes aren’t in Kansas anymore.
As for the story…On the positive side, the action is very solid. The heroes are likeable. The villains, both human and otherwise, appropriately dastardly. I felt genuine horror as the 100-million-year-old jungle started killing the large cast off. Yet the book is not all good. To a certain extent, I felt that everyone involved in the venture was just a little bit stupid. They came to find dinosaurs but weren’t really prepared even for the Amazon jungle. And none of them brought cameras. I mean—think about it. You’re looking for the Lost World and you don’t bring the means to document the dinosaurs you hope to find? Yet the good greatly outweighed the bad in this one, and the ending, while mostly predictable, didn’t play out exactly as I had thought it would, and it’s always good when a novel is packed with surprises.
Out of the Earth by Jake BibleDozens (if not hundreds) of kaiju are climbing out of the Yellowstone super volcano, ready to destroy anything in their reach. It’s a great premise, with the book roughly divided between people trying to survive the kaiju and the president trying to figure out how to destroy them. On that level, this is an exciting, action-packed, adventure, but what makes it really great is that the biggest monster is not a kaiju but a very sick man hunting down the son born to a woman he raped. Throw in some dangerous convicts and an anti-government militia and you have everything you need for a great story. My favorite character surprised me and I’m betting you’ll be surprised by how much you like him too.
Zoomers vs. Boomers by Sawyer Black
It’s becoming a new subgenre. Take a bunch of teenagers. Put them in an isolated location and either get them to kill each other or start killing them all off with traps and hunters. The twist to this novel, if you can call it a “twist”, is that the teenagers are all social media influencers and the hunters are baby boomers who hate the younger generation.
I’m not clear if it was intended or is a sign of my own age, but I disliked almost all of the zoomers. (I disliked almost all of the boomers too, so make of that what you will.) The novel starts slow for several chapters while the scene is being set and then people start dying horribly and it doesn’t let up until the last page. It’s exciting and its simultaneously frustrating, because almost all of these zoomers seem to think that even though the organizers have set traps that kill or maim the contestants, and even though there are hunters actively trying to kill the contestants, they still have a chance to win a million dollars. So they don’t try to escape and they refuse to help each other.
This may explain why the audiences of these social influencers refuse to believe that their heroes are really being murdered.
Attack of the Yetis by Eric Brown is an all action adventure without
much in the way of character development or evolving tension. The plot revolves
around a secret military taskforce (with very few military personnel) who have
snuck into Antarctica looking for aliens believed to have crashed there. What
they find instead are yetis—presumably alien yetis—who attack on sight and
apparently for no reason other than that they feel hostile. So humans and yetis
kill each other in large numbers. Because the author didn’t take the time to
introduce his cast before he started killing them off it is difficult to
develop a lot of sympathy for the victims of this massacre.
Don’t Know Jack by Diane Capri
This book is founded on a great idea. Two FBI agents are given a secret mission to find Jack Reacher and the information they’re given to start their search with is the location of his first novel, The Killing Floor, which happened fifteen years earlier than the novel Don’t Know Jack. If you like Lee Child’s famous series, this would appear to be a wonderful chance to relive that first novel through the eyes of law enforcement. Unfortunately, nothing about the novel really works. These two FBI agents find dead bodies and leave them without reporting them. They shoot at people—and hit them—without reporting it. They basically violate the law and FBI regulations with incredible frequency and never suffer any consequences or even seem to worry that they are committing crimes. Oh, but they’re sure that Jack Reacher is a no-good violent individual whom they assume is abusing people right and left—maybe they should look in the mirror. I don’t understand why Lee Child approved this book, much less a whole series.
Enter the Saint by Leslie Charteris
I’ve been wanting to read one of The Saint books since the movie came out some thirty years ago. I didn’t actually see the movie, but I remember that it looked interesting and Charteris’ series has a lot of books in it which promised a lot of entertainment if I liked it. So I finally acted on the impulse and while I wasn’t thrilled with the book, I wasn’t particularly disappointed either.
The Saint is a man who has dedicated his life to bringing criminals to justice, but not until he has bled them of significant financial resources first. He’s not greedy. He gives the money to charity. So he has a certain Robin Hood vibe to him.
I think the character can best be summed up by the word “attitude”. He has tons of it. No circumstance seems to discombobulate him. He loves putting on a disguise and he loves coming out in the open. He’s always ready for a fight whatever the odds. And he absolutely lives for the chance to make a criminal feel the shock of fear that comes from realizing he’s not actually in control of the situation.
So it was a fun book, but not so much that I feel compelled to run out and read the next one. If I happened upon one, I probably would, but if I wait thirty years to read the next one, that will be okay too.
Hotel Megalodon by Rich Chesler
I got this book because the blurb reminded me of the old disaster movies—The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—and I was right. Hotel Megalodon is a very fancy, one of a kind, underwater hotel built on a reef in Fiji. Unfortunately, the building of the hotel right on the edge of an extremely deep underwater chasm has attracted the attention of a sixty-foot beast that the world thought had died out sixty million years ago. What follows is a sort of Jaws on steroids. Chesler had me on the edge of my seat from the very beginning as the prehistoric shark begins making its first appearances and James White, the owner of the new hotel, refuses to believe that anything is going wrong with his grand opening.
White makes a great villain for this story—in many ways much better than the megalodon who is only a force of nature—not evil. Even as disaster strikes and people start to die, White is more interested in covering up the problem than in saving people’s lives. Worse, he has no problem trying to murder, Coco, our heroine to further his schemes. Every bit of the attempt to rescue the hotel guests is complicated by White’s sociopathic nature and it adds substantially to the stress.
Coco makes a great heroine. She’s intelligent and brave if sometimes more than a bit rash and foolish. It’s easy to care what happens to her because she cares what’s happening to everyone. In fact, she over cares at a couple of points and it is my major problem with the story. After nearly dying helping several people escape to the shore, Coco herself gets free and immediately goes back to the hotel to see if she can help anyone else. By this time the hotel is cut off and underwater, so returning wasn’t easy, but that’s not my problem with her move. She makes no effort to alert people to what’s happening. Yes, there have been some reports from the guests she rescued, but one would think that a marine biologist and employee of the hotel might be more successful in raising public attention to the danger the remaining guests and staff are facing. There is never any talk about getting naval help (even if it were to say, no ships could arrive for forty-eight hours) and not nearly enough attention given to the reporters who are on scene trying to understand what’s gone wrong.
That being said, this is action-packed adventure which gives 99% of its attention to the action. The ending was also not at all what I was expecting, but I liked it very much. If you think Jaws isn’t scary enough to keep you out of the water, you might want to book a room at Hotel Megalodon.
The Midnight Line by Lee Child
Jack Reacher stumbles across a West Point ring in a pawn shop and decides to return it to the original owner. It’s one of those strange impulses he occasionally has that even he doesn’t fully understand, and, as so often happens in this series, his act of human kindness almost gets him killed.
This novel pulled me in two different ways. On the one hand, the problem is just fascinating and I was totally captivated by the mystery of who the former owner of the ring was. As we begin to learn little bits about her, the mystery becomes more and more intriguing as Reacher tries to uncover why she’s in the circumstances she’s in. I freely admit that I missed clues that Child fairly laid out on the table, but that only made the ultimate revelations all the more exciting.
The second way this novel caught me was in the slow building tension caused by people trying to stop Reacher from finding the woman who used to own the ring. There’s a lot of action here—but Reacher is not just a violent killing machine wandering around the northwest and watching him work situations so they don’t explode into violence was just as exciting as witnessing him win a fight.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it appeared to reach its end about two-thirds through. We had our answers, but Child wasn’t finished with us yet. Knowing what he’s learned, Reacher can’t just walk away and we get what felt to me like a bonus adventure to make things right again.
Thresher by Michael Cole
I’ve been a fan of shark stories since I first read Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry when I was still in elementary school. Now Peter Benchley’s Jaws stands as the benchmark against which all such stories are measured and Michael Cole’s Thresher holds up pretty well in this company. At its heart, it’s a story of a rogue fish terrorizing a community. It also has a law enforcement officer with a serious problem (not fear of the water this time, but an inability to come to grips with his wife’s death), shady politicians, and a couple of very likeable other characters—enough to make it quite probable that some of these people are going to get eaten by the titular shark.
The build up is good. The shark is a terrible danger right from the beginning, coming off a little more like a megalodon than a great white, but this gets explained about midway through the story. In fact, in those early chapters, a lot more author energy is expended building up the cast than it is on the fish that attracted all the readers.
About midway through the novel, we find out that we are actually reading science fiction. The thresher, and what a great shark to build this story on because it hunts and fights very differently than a great white does, has consumed some experimental growth hormones that has radically boosted its size. The hormone has the additional effect of making the animal very aggressive. And since the government was involved in testing the growth hormone, a certain powerful politician wishes to cover up that his experiment has resulted in the deaths of a lot of people. So in addition to worrying about a man-eating predator wrecking boats in the nearby ocean, the heroes also have to fight a government coverup that is preventing news of the true extent of the danger to get out.
Now this is where the one seriously wrong turn that the author makes factors into the story. The heroes kill and capture a second fish that has been infected by the growth hormone—so they have evidence they can use to actually prove what is happening—but the scientist who made the discovery decides to use the dead fish as bait for the giant thresher. I hope I don’t have to dwell on how stupid this is. Not only does it dispose of badly needed evidence, every reader will instantly realize it puts some of the nicer characters in the story in serious risk.
That being said, the hunt for the shark and the climatic ending gave me all the thrills and excitement and satisfaction that I could have hoped for in this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
1901 by Robert Conroy
A little-known fact about the military buildup of Germany at the end of the 19th Century is that contingency plans were developed for a German invasion of the United States of America. At the time, Germany had the best army in Europe (and probably the world) and America almost didn’t have one. Germany also had a larger and more modern navy than the United States so it’s short-term prospects in a war with the U.S. looked good. In 1901, Conroy has come up with a justification for Germany actually launching the attack and then in a delightful bit of alternate military history, takes the reader through the course of the war.
I was a little frustrated in the beginning because I didn’t think Conroy understood how vast the resources of the U.S. in 1901 were and how implausible it was that Germany could prevent a massive buildup against their invasion, but it quickly became apparent that Conroy had respectably built these factors into his plan of war. He also effectively shows the peace faction, many of whom had staunchly opposed absorbing the former Spanish empire into the U.S., causing trouble for the president and adding tremendously to the risks if the growing U.S. army suffered a major defeat.
There are a lot of other things to like about this novel as well. The role of the British struck me as highly credible. The technology issues that would still be around (in our world) in 1914 were even more of a problem in 1901. There are tremendous leadership problems to be resolved (and the solution made me laugh with delight). Conroy also does some very nice work with the U.S. navy in this book and I thought his depictions of Kaiser Wilhelm II fit well with what I had read about the man, as did his characterization of Theodore Roosevelt.
On the other hand, there were two things about this novel that I didn’t like. The first was that President McKinley was very reluctant to declare war on Germany even after they invaded. This just isn’t plausible. Yes, McKinley was slow to declare war on Spain over actions in Cuba which he doubted justified going to war over, but that is highly different than a foreign power without provocation landing an army on Long Island. Even Woodrow Wilson would have rushed to declare war under those circumstances.
The second thing I disliked was how much time was devoted to the two romances in the novel. Nothing against romance, I read them occasionally, but this was a book about a war that might have happened and they were a huge distraction.
Overall, I was quite glad I read the book and I am adding Robert Conroy to the list of authors I’d like to read more of.
Dawn of the Storm by Kim Cresswell
This is a fun short novel which follows along fairly predictable lines. Retired agent, Raina Storm, has no interest in doing anything but raising her daughter. Unfortunately, the government has other plans and blackmails her into coming back to work. Terrorists have a dirty bomb in Columbia which they are planning to smuggle into the United States. Raina has to track down the bomb and stop them which she does without any genuine difficulty.
This is a fast-paced quick read, but doesn’t have the length to give any real depth to the characters and I never emotionally invested in them. Stil, it did have a lot of action and that’s a promising sign for the next book.
Run by Blake Crouch
In Run, Blake Crouch attempts to give his readers a zombie apocalypse without the zombies. The result is an exciting ride (or run, as it were) but ultimately his “zombies” don’t hold together as a credible threat and the ending is pure deus ex machina. Let’s take these issue one-by-one.
First, the blurb really sets the scene well. As violence expands like a supernova throughout America, an elderly woman on the radio starts directing people to attack specific individuals including Jack, our hero, a philosophy professor. He barely gets out with his family, and not before his wife’s lover arrives and almost kills them.
This is where the novel began to fall apart for me. This lover is clearly going to reappear but Crouch passes over the problem that such an appearance would normally cause by mentioning that Jack already knew his wife was cheating. I mean, it really is incomprehensible that no mention of this is made at all until the lover reappears at the end of the story.
Moving on, apparently celestial lights in the sky have triggered something in some Americans that have turned them into sadistic homicidal maniacs—maniacs who magically know who else has been affected (they seem to believe they have seen God). Whatever has changed within them drives them to torture and kill everyone else. By the way, Jack’s eight-year-old son has also seen the lights but never turns homicidal.
None of what I’ve just said in the above paragraph makes any sense and none of it is explained. I mean, Jack doesn’t recognize the voice of the old woman who sets the maniacs on him in the first chapters, so how does she even know he hasn’t been changed. The longer this situation continues, the more annoying I found it. But to be fair, what it does do is set the groundwork for a threat far more sinister than mindless zombies. These maniacs (millions of them) coordinate and murder their neighbors, setting up convoys and search parties to find the rest of those who “haven’t seen God”.
Apparently the changes stopped at the norther border of the contiguous 48 states so Jack and his family are trying to reach Canada. (Again—right at the border? It really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.) They have a lot of truly gripping encounters along the way even while Jack’s two children (especially the son) whine and complain and cause trouble. I wish this last part was unrealistic, but it is easy to imagine that spoiled children would not be able to adapt quickly to this new reality. They were annoying but probably realistically portrayed.
Finally, the way the novel ends is pure deus ex machina—as unrealistic as the whole set up, leaving me in the strange place of having enjoyed all of the action but disliked the entire backdrop to the story.
The Tuzla Run by Robert Davidson
I like a novel in which I feel like a learn a little something in addition to the plot, and the Tuzla Run is packed full of things to learn. First there’s the chaos of the war in the Balkans with multiple states and factions fighting against each other. Add to that, the IRA is active—something I’m sure I was aware of at the time, but there is a tendency to compartmentalize historical theaters and to forget that one can affect another. Finally there is the relief convoy that is the heart of this novel which really provides a look at the problems in the Balkans region that I was totally unfamiliar with.
The plot is solid even if it depends a lot on a couple of major coincidences. On the one hand, an IRA assassin and a British soldier whom he wounded both end up as drivers in the same convoy. At the same time, the relief convoy has been coopted by gun runners to move their contraband through the region. But look past those coincidences because this is an action-packed, frankly fascinating look at a nasty ethnic struggle that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read it.
The Noise of War by Vincent B. Davis
The Noise of War is a very realistic portrayal of a dark time in Roman history when the Germanic Cimbri had just inflicted upon Rome one of the most significant defeats the Republic ever suffered—the loss of 90,000 legionnaires. Davis does an excellent job of portraying the fear this loss generates and the personal scorn that the survivors suffer for the loss. He also succeeds in creating a genuine sense of what makes the barbarians so distinctive.
It takes a long time to get to the battles in this novel and I wish I knew more about the accounts of the actual war because a couple of the “tricks” that are used didn’t feel credible to me. For example, if the legionnaires can stand on a hilltop looking down at barbarians relaxing in the river, you would think the barbarians could see them as well and might start scrambling to arm and armor themselves while Marius makes his speech. The cavalry trick also seemed unlikely to me, but the strange thing about reality is that sometimes it is the most unlikely tricks that win the day. The novel was obviously thoroughly researched, so on balance I tend to credit the author’s portrayal over my skepticism.
And that really is the great strength of this book. This novel is so well researched that it makes you feel like you are walking the streets of Rome 2100 years ago, and that really is an amazing accomplishment.
I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas has long been my favorite classical author. He wrote gripping tales of honor, passion, ambition, and justice (often disguised as vengeance). His plots are deep and broad, filled with intrigue, adventure, and humor. And while many of his characters, such as the musketeers of this novel, have become stereotypes of the culture, in this book you will see that they have in reality fully developed personalities. In truth, even though he wrote in the mid-nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas is very much a modern author and his works are among the greatest works of literature ever written.
The Three Musketeers is one of his two most famous tales. In it, young d’artagnan leaves home to seek his fortune among the musketeers of Louis XIII where he meets the three fascinating men of the title. All are brilliant in their martial skills and each is a tower of gentlemanly virtues. D’Artagnan joins their company and the four men have several adventures while a tale of grave injustice and evil is slowly spun out around them.
Dumas gives us high politics, daring intrigue, love and ardor, and of course, dashing adventures. His dialogue is extraordinary, his action scenes tense and exciting, and the depths of his characterizations are amazing. As the plot builds toward its conclusion the threat of tragedy and the quest for ultimate justice combines in a wonderful conclusion that truly tests the mettle of his heroes.
As if all of this is not fantastic enough, The Three Musketeers is a brilliant piece of historical fiction in which real events are woven into the narrative and brilliantly explained by the occurrences of Dumas’ fictional plot.
In conclusion, let me point out that movies, plays, television series, cartoons, and comic books have all been developed out of this famous novel. Trust none of them as not a one comes close to rivaling this epic tale. Take the time to read the original.
Airliner Down by John Etzel
There’s something especially captivating about the damaged jet—filled with passengers—trying to make it safely to land again. It’s been the subject of several movies and of a number of excellent books and John Etzel has added a worthy story to that proud company. To make his novel even more exciting, roughly the first half of the book is told in a “countdown” mode working its way up to the “event” with the tension building all the way. In those pages, we meet the main characters, jump into Afghanistan where we learn that the entire motivation for the bombing (the murder of a village supposedly by Americans) is based on a lie, and watch events lead right up to the explosion of the bomb on the plane. Then we spend the rest of the novel watching the surviving passengers try and figure out how to land the aircraft.
This novel is brimming with tension helped along by two of the stupidest air marshals to ever be given a badge, a really crafty bomber, and a number of personal problems which greatly complicate the rescue of the airplane. We also get to see the people on the ground come to the realization that the bomb is on the plane and being unable to do anything because the jet is far out over the Pacific on its way to Hawaii. The technical aspects of the novel were also very credible (at least to a non-expert like myself) and helped build the excitement.
In the first few pages, however, I almost gave up on the book. The introduction of the hero as a guy having an affair with a married woman made me instantly dislike him, but Etzel coaxed me back onto the hero’s side and had me cheering for him through a flashback that greatly clarified what kind of man he was.
The ultimate solution to the crippled aircraft and its fuel problem also surprised and delighted me. It felt incredibly creative and also totally believable. There were also a number of touching scenes that just pushed this novel over the top for me.
If you enjoy cultivating your fear of flying, give Airliner Down a try.
Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Hunter Ripley Rawlings
Greaney and Rawlings have tried to write a Red Storm Rising for today’s generation when there is only one superpower left on the planet. The set up is a Chinese move to take over Taiwan. While the U.S. moves substantial forces toward Taiwan to deter China, Russia decides to take advantage of America’s distraction to seize control of three rare earth metal mines in Kenya, but first they convince the U.S. that all of Europe is in danger by launching a strong feint through Poland and into Germany.
It’s an audacious plan and the action comes fast and furious throughout the phases of the attack. At first, surprised and disoriented NATO forces, reel under the Russian assault with a few heroic units rallying to the defense of the west. The European front really heats up when Russia tries to withdraw its feint and the Poles refuse to stand down and stop fighting against them.
While this is playing out in Europe, the invasion of Africa continues full force with quickly cobbled together forces trying to bleed the attacking Russians sufficiently to stop the assault. The action in both theaters is gripping and the range of military forces is quite broad—infantry, helicopters, tanks, fighter jets, and even a submarine take center stage at various times in this novel. So despite being a little slow to get started it ends with a blaze of glory.
From the book blurb I expected this novel to be
something like a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie—Commando or Raw Deal—and
nonstop action is pretty much what you get. There is nothing deep in these
pages, but they are a tremendous amount of mindless fun. The story revolves
around two teenagers: Sid—who’s been trained from birth to be a killing
machine—and Lily—who’s trying to escape her mother’s truly horrifying ex. Throw
in secret government programs and another super soldier and you have just
enough plot to justify tons of actions. Lily is the only character with any
depth, but honestly the plot doesn’t need much character development. Tons of
She’s Got the Guns by M.O. Mack
This is an unexpectedly good story about a woman on the run from her abusive law enforcement husband who stumbles into a job as a receptionist for a group of contract killers. Shortly after realizing what’s really going on, she decides to extricate herself from the situation but it turns out that is not an easy thing to do. This is a fast-moving fun story that manages to take a wild and unrealistic premise and turn it into a thoroughly enjoyable action adventure where the bad guys are often the good guys and the good guys stone cold bad.
Where Eagles Dare by Alister MacLean
It’s hard to read Where Eagles Dare without comparing it to the extraordinary 1968 movie starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure (which I admittedly saw last a great many years ago). The book holds up well to the movie it gave birth to with one major exception that I will address later.
Where Eagles Dare is a high-tension action-fest set during World War II. American General George Carnaby has been shot down and captured by Nazi Germany and a thrown together crew of commandos must rescue him before the Germans wrest the secrets of the D-Day invasion from him—forcing it to be delayed at least a year. Parachuting in behind enemy lines, the rescue team must penetrate the heavily guarded Hohenwerfen Castle—accessible only by helicopter and cable car—liberate Carnaby and escape with him. It’s an impossible mission, except that what I’ve just described would be relatively easy compared to what the real mission proves to be.
With things going wrong from the moment they jump out of the plane, the hero, Major Smith, must maneuver his dwindling team of soldiers through a German town to get them up into that castle where only eagles would dare to travel. Mysterious deaths and unfortunate captures plague his team, but it’s only in the confrontation with German General Rosemeyer midway through the book that we really find out what’s going on—at least we think we do.
It’s nonstop action from that point forward—something very well suited for the movies but which MacLean pulls off just as well. In fact, the only thing I thought the movie did much better than the book was the roll of the American Schaffer. Eastwood plays him as his typically silent and deadly character, but MacLean put him forth as often whining and annoying figure. I prefer Eastwood, but that didn’t stop this from being a wonderful book.
Agent Zero in Jack Mars
Agent Zero is a spy thriller inspired by the Bourne Identity. Reid Lawson, a happy history professor with two daughters, is kidnapped and tortured by several Arabs who are convinced he’s some sort of super spy. Turns out they are right. When a memory suppressing chip is removed from Lawson’s head, he begins having scattered memories of a different life and continually discovers skills he didn’t know he had. He needs those skills, because as he tries to find out how he got where he is, just about everyone tries to kill him out of fear he already knows what they’re doing.
This is a fast-moving novel with tons of action and even more twists and turns. By any definition, it’s a lot of fun. If you like the spy thriller genre, this book has a lot to offer you.
The Damnation Code by William Massa
What do you get when you combine demonology with computer code? You get a fast paced, action packed, fun little novel called The Damnation Code by William Massa. A Silicon Valley billionaire has found a way to take over people through computer code turning them into fanatical little cultists who will kill for him—even killing themselves. Each death feeds the demon behind the billionaire’s rise to power bringing the world closer to the apocalypse. Fortunately, the mad billionaire makes a tiny little error—sacrificing the girlfriend of a special forces soldier who takes extraordinary exception to the murder. The result is a lot of fun.
Polar Vortex by Matthew Mather
This is both a strange and exciting thriller. A jetliner goes down in the arctic and more than a week later still hasn’t been found. The only clue to its whereabouts is a journal found a thousand-plus miles (and more than a week) from where everyone thinks the jet crashed. So the story is told on two levels—brief chapters involving the team examining the journal bookending much longer sections chronicling the journal-writer, Mitch, and his five year old daughter as they get on to the plane and eventually crash and struggle to survive.
This is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat style, adventure that anyone can empathize with because who wouldn’t do whatever they had to in order to make certain their five-year-old child survived. There are a lot of strange people on board—enough to make you think that even coincidence can’t account for all of this—and part of the genius of the story is that coincidence isn’t the answer. This is an extremely well thought out story which I totally enjoyed.
#murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
My high-school-aged niece recommended this novel to me and it was a fun read from beginning to end even if it was not perfectly successful. McNeil ambitiously sets out to create a Hunger-Games-style-dystopian-kill-fest in modern day America. A reality TV star becomes president and decides to make justice profitable by creating a reality TV show in which people who have been condemned to death are put on Alcatraz 2.0 to be hunted down by flamboyant serial killers in a way reminiscent of The Running Man movie. There are occasional concerns raised by people about cruel and unusual punishment (all the convicted are tortured to death in horrific ways) but apparently neither Congress nor the Supreme Court shares those concerns. So—totally unbelievable premise, but if you put that aside, you are left with a fast-paced and entertaining story about some amazingly smart young adults who act in very dumb ways whenever the plot requires it.
We know from moment one that Dee, our heroine, is both innocent of the charge of killing her step sister and has been framed by someone involved in some way with the show. In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that the mysterious Postman who runs the show has a special beef with Dee, but Dee has more steel in her spine than most contestants and quite a bit of luck. She survives the first attempt to kill her and will go on to transform the game on the island.
Yet, that little bit of unbelievable stupidity also rears its head in that very first scene. Prince Slycer, the dully appointed murderer of Dee, is known for his many knives, yet Dee and the other prisoner on the island who encounters her, don’t bother to take any and arm themselves. Later Dee will search frantically for weapons, and I have to assume that every single reader is annoyed she left her weapon behind. It’s not the only time this happens and it was totally unnecessary.
As McNeil doles out the clues to what is happening, people keep dying for the thrill of the television audience. I’m sorry to say that that actually felt plausible—people tuning in to see executions. It’s clear that not all people believe this is really happening, but everyone apparently watches. Dee tries to get the captives to start banding together to defend themselves and it also becomes increasingly obvious that many of the people on the island were framed for their crimes.
I don’t want to give away the ending. This novel is an enjoyable adventure story and there were two important twists that totally surprised me. Just don’t think too hard about things and you’ll enjoy the ride.
America Falls Books 1-3 by Scott Medbury
When a Chinese bioweapon kills almost every adult in America who does not have Chinese heritage, teenager Isaac Race finds himself leading a small group of not yet adults in search of a safe haven from the invading Chinese army. I enjoyed the story quite a lot. There’s plenty of action and some very good character development, but in the end there was not quite enough world building for me to give the series a top ranking.
So let’s start with the best part of the series, the protagonist, Isaac. A victim of tragedy even before the plague, Isaac is a very sympathetic character who is faced with believable moral quandaries as he tries to navigate his way through a world that has fallen apart. Like most real human beings, he has a hard time accepting that he now exists in a dog-eat-dog world and is reluctant to use force at all, much less lethal force. He also makes some bad decisions, but they are credible bad decisions, so they enrich the character rather than sour him for the reader. His supporting cast is also likable which makes Medbury’s willingness to kill them off as the series progresses all the more painful.
The action reminded me strongly of plots that would fit in well with The Walking Dead with the Chinese army substituting for the zombies. You only have to think about Lord of the Flies to realize that other survivors would have to be treated with caution as not everyone would be altruistic in this post-apocalyptic America. These conflicts added considerably to the tension of the story and added a lot to my enjoyment of the plot. It was only in the world building that I kept finding myself asking questions that I’m not certain are fair to ask.
The biggest of those questions is: if the Chinese did succeed in creating a highly contagious virus that killed off all adults who are not of Chinese ethnicity, that suggests that North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia (plus the populations of a heck of a lot of islands) would quickly be almost completely depopulated. The world economy would then crash—including the Chinese economy. Global industry would come to a halt and it seems likely that in short order China also would be in a state of industrial collapse. So I don’t know how realistic it is to expect the Chinese to be able to sustain a prolonged invasion of the entire United States—and I’m also not certain in these circumstances how important it would be for them to invade in the first place. After all, a bunch of teenagers—even with the support of Asian-Americans—just aren’t going to be able to save the modern industrial United States from sinking into utter barbarism. China is now the world’s only super power—at least until its own industry grinds to a halt. It could afford to wait to invade.
This is the kind of concern that the reader needs to bury deep and forget about it—and for the most part I was able to do that. After all, Isaac doesn’t really know what’s going on in the rest of the world. Maybe it is collapsing. I guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
The Land Below by William Meikle
I’ve been reading books like The Land That Time Forgot and The Lost World for decades. There’s something about modern people running into dinosaurs that just grabs my interest and keeps me coming back for more. So it was with great anticipation that I jumped into The Land Below and despite a setup that led me to believe that I knew everything that was going to happen before I began, this book pleasantly surprised me again and again.
So let’s get down to basics. A scholarly young man (Ed) has stumbled across a reference to a hidden treasure of the Teutonic Knights and organizes a very small expedition to go and find it. The expedition consists of his know-it-all brother (Tommy) and a retired soldier with serious experience of combat and crisis (Danny). The expectation is that Tommy will lock horns with Danny throughout the book, constantly endangering all of their lives when they find dinosaurs in a cave in Austria. Except—none of that happens.
At the mouth of the cave in Austria they encounter the last two (accidental) members of their expedition, a shepherd (Stefan) and his dog who end up tagging along for no truly good reason and getting trapped in the cave with the others.
This is when things get interesting. Instead of dinosaurs, Meikle has built his subterranean world on ancient Germanic legends introducing the wyrms that are the forerunners of European dragons. He also builds very serious tension through the injuries his heroes receive, recognizing that you can’t just take a serious wound and then act as if nothing happened in the next chapter.
The only thing that never really worked for me was the character Stefan. He decides to go along too readily and he never really is upset by anything that happens. I kept expecting him to be revealed as a descendant of the original Teutonic Knights sworn to protect their hoard of hidden treasures. The fact that he wasn’t struck me as a lost opportunity.
The novel concludes with an absolutely wonderful scene that could have inspired so many of those ancient legends, at least if you assume that much of what is found predates the Teutonic Knights and was simply discovered by them.
Into the Mist by Lee Murray
Dinosaurs, or something very like them, are coming to New Zealand. Deep in a national park, people have been disappearing and the government unofficially looks into the problem by sending some special defense force soldiers to escort some civilians looking to track down a new gold source. The civilians are part of a plot to seed the area with gold to create the excuse for largescale exploration on native land, but the dinosaur has its own plan.
This book is a lot of fun. The bad guys are bad enough for the reader to cheer for their demise and the good guys are likable enough you want them to survive. The monster does a particularly good job of being, well, monstrous and creepy as well as appropriately terrifying. I’m not certain that it is realistic for something the size of a T-Rex to sneak silently through the forest, but it certainly gets the blood pumping when the heroes turn around and it’s there.
My favorite part of the novel, however, was the attempts to connect the T-Rex to native legends to see if the soldiers could figure out a way to kill it that didn’t involve their low caliber guns.
A good tale.
Ghostland by Duncan Ralston
Ghosts are real! It’s been scientifically proven. And now a company has brought all of America’s most famous haunting spirits together into one amusement park—a park in which all of the protections against the spirits are about to come crashing down.
While this sounds like a great setting for a horror movie, it’s really not. It’s the setting of an action-adventure movie along the lines of Jurassic Park but with less eerie tension. Basically this about our intrepid heroes running around killing the ghosts while they slowly discover why everything is happening. That solution was fun. The book in general is fun. But it’s not the horror novel that the title and blurb suggest and that left me feeling a bit disappointed and impatient as I worked my way to the end.
Koreatown Blues by Mark Rogers
Let me start out by saying that this book was not what I expected and that’s probably a good thing. Wes is a hardworking guy who manages a car wash during the day and goes to sing karaoke at a Korean bar each night. Then the owner of the carwash he works at gives him the opportunity to buy the business. The only problem, Wes doesn’t have the money. That’s when he’s offered a highly unusual opportunity—the money he needs for the down payment in exchange for marrying a young Korean woman. He thinks she’s an illegal immigrant looking for a green card. The truth, however, is that she’s the victim of a three-hundred-year blood feud and her family’s enemies have killed the woman’s last five husbands.
With a setup like that, I was expecting an “Executioner” style bloodbath. I figured that Wes would turn out to be an Iraqi war vet and the bad guys would discover they had picked on the wrong man—but that is not what Mark Rogers rolls out. Our hero, Wes, like most Americans, doesn’t have a lot of experience with violence and is desperate to resolve the situation in a peaceable and civilized fashion. As you might guess, that isn’t an attitude shared by the bad guys. Wes’ solution was certainly an interesting one.
1 The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
For the past few years I have been rereading classic adventure stories, both true classics like Alexandre Dumas and more recent “classics” like The Destroyer and The Executioner. This time I am turning my attention to Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series.
Right off the top it’s important to recognize that this is a truly difficult book for the modern reader. It was written just before World War I at the end of the British Empire—an Empire that embraced the philosophy in Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden”. Its protagonists, in fact, are unapologetically racist in their attitude with Smith in the first chapter stating that he is trying to save the white race and with Fu Manchu (the villain of the series) commanding a criminal enterprise that apparently includes (through threat and intimidation) every Asian on the planet. These attitudes are terribly jarring as they continually pop up throughout the novel and it’s difficult to keep oneself in the frame of mind of the early twentieth century English man who narrates the tale—a man who is encountering the “exotic” criminal strategies of Fu Manchu for the first time in England.
The protagonists are Smith (from the Foreign Office) and Petrie (a physician). They seem to have been loosely modeled on Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Petrie bungles around always in the thick of things but is totally ignorant of his foe and totally overwhelmed with admiration for Smith. Smith, for his part, fully recognizes the danger presented by Fu Manchu’s schemes, but doesn’t actually do much beside run from place to place throwing himself into the problems without any apparent plan. His success is more dumb luck than careful strategy (so the Sherlock Holmes comparison is obviously weak).
The actual adventure story is only all right. There are death traps (some of which were very serious) for our heroes to escape. And there’s a lot of worrying and running about, always a step behind Fu Manchu. There’s a love interest introduced for Petrie who serves mostly to get Petrie and Smith out of their problems. But overall, plot isn’t a strong point in the story (although it’s easy to see how the many deathtraps attracted the attention of the many film makers who have tackled this series).
Why then are people still reading this book more than a hundred years later? The answer is simple—Dr. Fu Manchu is a wonderful villain. To continue the Sherlock Holmes parallel, he’s Moriarty, but one with more intelligence, greater reach, and frankly, more ruthlessness than the Sherlock Holmes foe. He is a fantastic bad guy, worthy of superhero comics. He’s always several steps ahead of Smith and Petrie and frankly, it’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than that he allows them to survive the book because they are somehow furthering his plans. He also has a strong sense of honor that is the only limit on his success. For example, he seems completely committed to telling the truth. His disdain for modern weapons like guns also adds an exotic element to his character. Remove Fu Manchu and this would be a very dull tale.
Three Hour Tour by L.P. Snyder
I got this book for one simple reason—it really amused me to think of someone writing a darker take on Gilligan’s Island. And this is darker! Everyone does not come together in a happy spirit of cooperation to make life a paradise on the isolated island. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Three Hour Tour starts slow as the fairly large cast is introduced, but then picks up speed and charges away toward the last page once Snyder finally reaches the spot where he gets to turn his tourists into castaways. Once on the island, things fall apart quickly. The “important man” (think Thurston Hall with bodyguards and even less morals) takes over in what initially appears to be a reasonably democratic way but quickly becomes rule by force when people begin to disagree with him.
Our hero is something of a loner and slips away early on to explore the island and avoid the “bad guy”. To do this, he leaves his friends behind, but he doesn’t forget them. The island is beautifully drawn with waterfalls, caves, a lookout peak, and other exciting and totally believable features. There’s also two surprises on the island which leads to this reading a lot more like Treasure Island than Lord of the Flies.
The tension in the book boils down to a conflict between Dee (our hero) and the bad guy and his guards. Dee is not a violent sort of person, so his efforts are largely devoted to helping people who want to escape the bad guy do so, while trying to figure out how to help those who choose to stay behind.
Then the pirates arrive—yes, colorful pirates—and things turn much darker and more violent. By this point, Dee and his friends have also figured out that they must be very far off the normal sea lanes so these pirates also might represent their only hope of escape. The tension here is very real and the solution works pretty well.
My biggest problem in the book is with the circumstances leading to our castaways being stranded on the island. Snyder spends a lot of time building up a connection between the big bad guy and the captain of the cruise ship. I believed there to be some sort of corrupt deal there. This feeling was reinforced when the ship acts strange coming out of port and the crew starts lying to the passengers. Then there are mechanical difficulties which Dee convincingly points out can’t be what the passengers are being told they are. Then the passengers are put on small boats to be moved to another vessel (the three-hour tour of the title) where there are yet more mechanical problems which open them up to a rogue wave and storm. Snyder never explains what was really going on with the cruise ship and for me it was a major disappointment in the story. If there wasn’t something nefarious happening, he should have stuck with a simple, believable, mechanical problem. Since he didn’t do that, I feel like we were never given the full story.
Cabo 2 Cozumel by L. P. Snyder
I really enjoyed the first book in this series and so was very happy to see a sequel published. Unfortunately, the second book never captured my imagination the way the first one did.
The plot revolves around the cast of the first novel spending their millions vacationing off the coast of Mexico where they discover a sunken vessel while scuba diving. They liberate a gold bell from the vessel, but as they transfer the bell onto their boat, a second boat comes near to them, making them fear that their discovery has been witnessed. So far, so good. But what follows after never made much sense to me.
The heroes decide to research the bell and try to discover its providence. This quickly becomes a search for a lost treasure ship of Cortez. Racing them, hounding them, harassing them, and threatening them through the whole book is a criminal who also wants to find Cortez’s ship. Everyone seems to have forgotten that they were actually at the lost ship at the beginning of the story. Both our heroes and the villain were at the shipwreck site, so while the chase and the efforts to escape the villain were interesting, they all seemed rather pointless. And that, unfortunately, sums up this novel for me.
If you enjoy fast-paced adventure stories with just enough mystery to
keep you wondering, this is the novel for you. It opens with our hero, Nova,
getting the tires shot out of his $100,000 sports car but not knowing anything
has happened other than that he got two flat tires. He hikes back into town and
gets himself into some trouble with the locals which he manages quite handily. It’s
not until the next day when he tries to get his car towed that he begins to
figure out something is wrong. His car has been stolen and he very quickly
figures out that something in this extremely small desert town is very out of
kilter. That’s when the action goes into high gear and it doesn’t stop until
the very end of the story. There’s nothing deep in this book, but the plot
holds together very well and I resented it every time life intervened and I had
to stop reading. If you like a book ala the Executioner but with a much better
plot and slightly more realistic action, give Bullet Rain a try.
Legion by Robert Swartwood
Brought home for the funeral of a father he detested, John Smith finds himself dumped into a storm of insanity. His sister, an Assistant District Attorney starting a high-profile case, murders her family and then jumps from the roof of her apartment building. And then men start trying to kill Smith. Obviously the three things are connected, but Smith can’t figure out how. What he does know is that the men trying to kill him are highly influential people and they don’t appear to care how many other innocents die in their quest. This is a fast moving, highly exciting novel of ruthless killers and the man trying not to become their next victim.
Dead Ice by David Wood and Steven Saville
This book has all the hallmarks of a great thriller. A soviet submarine bearing some sort of break through weapon is trapped in the ice and an American team goes in to try and secure the weapon before Soviet special forces can arrive. Unfortunately, the novel never quite caught the adrenalin rush that normally accompanies such thrillers. The most interesting thing to happen was the discovery of some ice age animals thought to be extinct, but even this really didn’t get he pulse pounding. I suspect that if you’re fans of the series, just seeing your favored characters in action again will boost this novel considerably, but for those of us trying it for the first time it felt pretty tame—nothing terrible, but nothing wonderful either.
The Depths by Nick Thacker
I’ve always been a sucker for books about underwater habitats. There is something about the isolation deep beneath the ocean with the constant threat of the immense pressure of the sea water cracking the shelter that ramps up the excitement for me just about every time. Unfortunately, The Depths is the exception to the rule. It starts out okay with a kidnapped child and a parent desperately trying to locate him, but the story never quite finished grabbing my attention. There were too many irrational actors and many little details such as a lack of understanding of military protocol that really damaged my suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, the story just couldn’t hold my attention.
Devil’s Desk by Mark Tufo
If you like action, attitude, and a touch of the paranormal, you’re going to love Devil’s Desk. Mike and his wife, Tracey, join their best friends, BT and Linda, on a camping trip in the Alaskan wilderness. While they are there, a massive earthquake sinks chunks of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska (and presumably parts of Canada too) setting off volcanic eruptions and tsunamis that basically cut the four (and the other campers) off from civilization. That would have been bad enough. There are a lot of bizarre personalities in the campground, including a man who turns out to be a psychopathic murderer. But the group’s problems are only just beginning. Because all of the seismic activity has also drawn a clan of yeti (or maybe sasquatches) down out of the mountains and they have quickly discovered they like the taste of human flesh.
What follows is a truly exciting adventure in which the humans try to figure out how not to get eaten while fighting continuously among themselves. BT’s wife is initially worried about harming what must be an endangered species. The college kids don’t want anyone telling them what to do. The psychopath similarly can’t play nice. BT (a cop) can’t get it through his head that this isn’t the best time to be telling the psychopath that he’ll be charged with murder when they get back to civilization. And that’s all before the extraordinary tension causes real problems to come out between the friends and their fellow survivors.
Tufo also makes the yeti actions seem highly plausible as they show they are more than animals if less than human. This low-grade intelligence makes them all the more terrifying as they tighten the noose around the humans. Things get so bad that about seventy percent of the way through the book I started wondering what the author could do with the last pages—first few chapters of anther novel?—because it seemed impossible for everyone not to be dead in the next few pages. Yet, each time what happened seemed credible, even when one of the group starts lambasting the man who keeps saving them for being a killer and therefore morally inferior to the others.
There are two elements to this story that scream for a sequel without in anyway making the book less than a standalone novel. The first is the prologue. What exactly happened in the mine? Is this the true source of the yeti as I initially suspected, or is something else going on? The second is an almost throw away line which suggests that one of the group isn’t from this timeline. I suspect that Mark Tufo has a lot more instore for us. I can’t wait to read his next novel.
Target Penderghast Uncovered by Ian Welch
I picked up this story as a free book when I first started reading novels electronically and I recently reread it. It’s a fun little tale of a surfer dude who gets pulled into an effort to stop thousands of people from being murdered in a terrorist attack.
The story opens with a rather chilling scene of a former IRA terrorist murdering a police inspector with the VX nerve toxin, setting up the threat. The action then switches to introduce the totally likable surfer dude, Brad Penderghast, who prevents a robbery and in so doing comes to the attention of the CIA and British MI6. They rather unethically recruit him to penetrate a group of ex-IRA (now called RIRA) terrorists by using his charms with the ladies to win the heart of the head terrorist’s daughter, Cara. The problem—Brad is really not a devious sort. He wears his heart on his sleeve and very quickly, the two actually fall in love.
This greatly disappoints her father and one of his men (Liam) who wants Cara for himself and they move to break the two apart. Then the story takes a turn for the worst. Brad, having learned just a little of the terrorist’s efforts to buy more of the nerve toxin, goes all James Bond and pretends to be a rival arms dealer trying to buy the toxin himself. This is really unfortunate. Brad as a persistent love-interest of the daughter was believable. Having him play arms dealer just didn’t work for me. And it takes up most of the book. It’s enjoyable, but in no way credible, if that makes sense.
Then the bad guys get the toxin and Brad gets sent to Ireland by MI6 to try and lean from Cara what the plan is. That was slightly more credible than the last part, but still not as well done as the first third or so of the book.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, although I really don’t understand why Cara kept telling her father she wanted to talk about his Liam’s advances towards her (a conversation her father didn’t want to have) instead of saying—Dad, Liam raped me—which I believe would have gotten Liam doused with nerve toxin in about two-and-a-half seconds. Then again, perhaps that’s why she never used the direct approach. The author would have lost one of his most important bad guys.
A Long Time from Now by Michael Z. Williamson
I loved this book for about the first 80% of the novel, then I felt like it (or maybe it was me) ran out of steam just about the time we were hitting the climax. On its basic level this is a story of ingenuity and survival in the far past. Ten U.S. soldiers are mysteriously transported through time to the remote past where they have to learn to survive without any support from modern civilization. That in and of itself is quite interesting, but Williamson spices things up considerably first by having the soldiers encounter stone age peoples and then by having them encounter other accidental time travelers.
It's all quite fascinating until you start to think about just how much this random ten soldiers knows about living in the stone age. The tech specialist makes sense, she’s trying to keep the modern tech working. The medic has knowledge that makes sense as well. But honestly, do we really think that a random ten soldiers will know how to weave, tan leather, forge metals, etc. It was a bit too much and that started to be really driven home for me somewhere around the 80% mark when the future time travelers were seriously impacting the storyline.
I also frankly didn’t like the resolution of the story. I don’t want to give spoilers here, but I liked the setup and thought that there was a whole series to be developed on that idea. The resolution felt a little too close to a deus ex machina to me. It wasn’t quite that, but it felt close to it.
So, in summation, this is a good book if you’d like to read about 10
people trying to recreate civilization in the ultimate wild.