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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Corporate Retreats - AIG Comes to Mind

When I think about all the ways the corporate elite collect the many perks of their position, it is mind-boggling. Sure, GM finally agreed to cut back on two of their corporate jets after all the bad PR at the first auto bailout hearings. Then we learn that they have five more that they were planning to continue using. Then their is the myth of the $1 annual salary - meaningless given 5 to 30 million in stock benefits.

I remember the first story out after the big AIG bailout -- that AIG would continue with plans for a lavish executive level retreat in California including massage and spa treatment and a lot more. Again, after the publicity, they changed the location to something less plush. I wonder.

So I am looking forward to reading Power Play by Joe Finder this month. I understand the gist of the plot is that high level executives from Hammond Aeronautics go to an off-site retreat in a secluded house in the woods. Cut off from normal business communication links, they suddenly find themselves under siege from unknown terrorists.

Truly a thriller for a day in which corporate ethics - if they ever existed - are blurred by the pressures of competition and internal political positioning. Finder has written several other books that focus on this theme, including Paranoia.

Not only am I looking forward to reading the book for our Mystery Book Club, but I am looking forward to discussing the book with the author, Joe Finder, live at our Mystery Book Club meeting on January 30!! Awesome!!

Manchester Public Library, 15 Union Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, USA\
Friday January 30, 10:30 am (to discuss the book)
11:30 am to meet the author if you did not come for the book discussion

Tell No One - Great Film based on Coben's Book

Our Mystery Book Club had a great discussion in the end of October concerning Harlan Coben's book, Hold Tight.

During the discussion I mentioned the film that came out in USA theaters in July based on his 2002 novel, Tell No One. I read the book several years back. It was a strong, well written, gripping thriller. The story centers on Dr. David Beck, a New York pediatrician whose wife was murdered eight years before. Now there is an email that purports to come from her and it ends with, "Tell no one."

I saw the movie last July when it came out - the only movie I saw in 2008. I have to say that it captured the mood, the characters, and the plot of the book extremely well. What makes the film adaptation of Tell No One so amazing is that it was produced in France, it is in the French language, and the setting is changed to France. There is a minor plot change to make the story believable in a French setting. Other than that, it is accurate to the book.

The film will be out in DVD format on March 9, 2009.

See the film trailer by clicking here.

To me, the fact that the film was so well done is nothing short of amazing. It is way beyond the norm of mystery books rewritten for the silver screen. Among the many terrible mystery book adaptations for film was "V. I Warshawski" - particularly annoying to me because I love Paretsky's character.

Yeah - Still reading mystery books

I realize I have not been posting and I am truly repentant - well, sorry anyway. But I have been reading plenty of mysteries, nevertheless. Of course each month I have read our book club (MBC) selection. You can see my score (out of 100) listed. Here is what I have been reading:

December 2008
->Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only (MBC Selection - My Score = 88 The book club members average score was decidedly lower than mine.)
->John Sandford, Dark of the Moon

November, 2008
->John C. Mortimer, Rumpole & the Penge Bungalow Murders (MBC Selection - My Score = 45 The book club members score was decidedly higher than mine)

October, 2008
->Harlan Coben, Hold Tight (MBC Selection - My Score = 95)
->Harlan Coben, The Inncoent, Deal Breaker
->David Morrell, Extreme Denial, Testament NOTE: I gotta read more of Morrell's books.

September, 2008
->Steve Martini, Undue Influence (MBC Selection - My Score = 93)
->Steve Martini, Shadow of Power [I'm a big Paul Madriani character fan but this book was the weakest in the series in my view], Compelling Evidence, (first in the series and good)

August, 2008
->Ed McBain, Fiddlers (MBC Selection - My Score = 64), Fat Ollie's Book.
->Jeffrey Deaver, The Cold Moon

July, 2008
->Richard North Patterson, Degree of Guilt (MBC Selection - My Score = 87.5)
->Elmore Leonard, Killshot

Friday, June 27, 2008

Strong Unanimous Agreement: Thumbs Up for Chiefs

Just got back from our book club discussion of Chiefs by Stuart Woods. Considering how often our group has had differing views of what makes a good mystery, it was nothing short of thrilling to report- we all loved it. Chiefs, the first book by Woods (1982), is not exactly "current," but it did win an Edgar Award when it first came out. It has since been reissued.

We all felt that it had a different feel from the average mystery book. Which makes an interesting point: Is it a mystery? A thriller? A novel? Historical fiction? Epic story? All of those things. By the way, on the rating form, or grading sheet, I gave the book a 97 - the highest grade out of over 20 books rated on that form.

The book takes place in rural Georgia over a 43 year period. It is divided into three parts, each focused on a different police chief in the small town of Delano. We learn of the beginnings of a serial killer and how his work is never fully discovered until the end of the book. Yet the book is not exactly about the crime, but about relationships, attitudes about race, irony, character, and more. It was a book that was at once slow enough to explore the depths of character over time, and breathless enough (thanks to chapter endings with cliffhangers) to make me stay up until wee hours too finish it. The book got unanimous endorsement by the group probably because it had something for everyone.

I can't recommend this book highly enough! Chiefs

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Your Summons

You are summoned to participate with us in reading mystery books!

Who is us? Find out here by getting some background on the Mystery Book Club.

How do you participate? Get your own copy of the monthly book, listed at the top of the column at right. You can buy a copy or get one from your library. Read it. Look for our comments on the blog. Then, most importantly, let us hear from you - add your own comments. Tell us what you liked or didn't like. During our meetings, we often discuss aspects of the book using a grading or rating form. You can download your own copy from the resource page if you want, or just say what you want about the book.

Also, add your comments about mysteries or thrillers you are reading. To do this, click here.

Be among the first to get involved!

Recent Airplane Books

Airplane books are not books about airplanes! They are books that make the passage of time on airplanes much more enjoyable. And what could be more enjoyable than a good mystery!

I just returned from Malaysia; that's four plane trip segments each way or a total of 72 hours round trip. In addition there are evening meals accompanied by a good book during my 8 days in Malaysia. So I read quite a bit; here are four books I'll share with you as my recent "outside reading." (Outside reading refers to books not on our monthly book club list.)

Stone Quarry, by S J Rozan. OK I have already mentioned this book in another post, but I am still amazed when I think about what the author accomplished in writing two different books from the same series, but from different points of view. This is a "who dunnit" type of book, recommended, a solid B.

Blind Eye
, by John Morgan Wilson. This is the fifth in a series featuring Benjamin Justice, a LA based journalist who stumbles into a Catholic church cover up of a child predator while researching material for his own autobiography. Obviously a controversial subject, the author draws you into the plot with the murder of another journalist, the potential involvement of a Latin American maniacal terrorist, the wild unpredictable behavior of a young victim of abuse, and the moody, unstable behavior of the HIV-positive central character. Even though it was not hard to guess who the eventual guilty party would be, there were enough red herrings to keep it interesting; in addition, Justice is an interesting lead character, portrayed somewhat realistically. I say "somewhat." Because there is one flaw that detracts heavily from the story; it is Justice's completely inexplicable lack of follow up on the obvious clues. The author tries to attribute this to Justice's mental state (his health challenges and distraction due to melancholy about past failures in the journalistic world- he was a discredited Pulitzer Prizer winner). But I don't buy it. In one chapter, he discovers the likely murder weapon (a vehicle used in a hit and run attack) at a garage, he then does nothing with that information for at least 50 pages. There were several other examples of failure to follow up. Then, later, the hero will go: "Oh yeah, I just thought of something..." This book would earn a solid B recommendation were it not for these lead character failings which make no sense whatsoever. Wilson is a good writer, with an otherwise engaging lead character, but I give the book a C+ rating.

Echo Burning, by Lee Child. This is my second Jack Reacher novel and I will no doubt read a few more. Reacher is in hitchhiking in Texas when he gets caught up in a confusing set of circumstances that surround a beautiful woman who claims that her husband abuses her. But is she telling the truth? Much of the book deals with that question while the antagonists include the husband and his family and friends together with the ever present sweltering, glaring sun. At the same time a conspiracy is afoot with hired killers staking out the small Texas communities around Pecos. Although the story is narrated mostly from Reacher's viewpoint, we are periodically told what the professional kill-team is up to; that puts Child's book into the "thriller" category. Of course it is not until the very end that Reacher figures out who the kill team is working for. Great plot; great setting descriptions. The one thing that annoys just a bit is the way Reacher resolves the crisis at the end. There is altogether too much dependence on brilliant guess work that his beyond credible. For example, with thousands of possible hideouts, he guesses (OK, Watson, deduces) it's several of hundreds of possible motels, and with only one wrong turn, selects the correct motel. That's just one example of this Holmes-like behavior. Come on! No one is that insightful. I would kind of prefer a realistic, more credible balance between the flawed investigator of Blind Eye (above) and Reacher. Because of this, I keep debating between a "B" and a "B+" rating for this book.

Consent to Kill
, by Vince Flynn. This is seventh in a series featuring Mitch Rapp, a CIA field operative who has far-reaching independent powers, a kind of American 007. In previous books, Rapp has single-handedly rescued the President from a terrorist threat invasion of the White House, and subsequently delivered the country from a nuclear detonation in New York and Washington. Now Rapp is the target of an assassin hired by an enraged Saudi who believes that Rapp has killed his son (terrorist from a previous book). I read this 760 page book in one sitting (yeah- remember how long these flights are?) so it certainly held my attention. I have read one or two other books in this series, but this is the last that I'll read. For me to really get into a series, I typically have to admire, like, or enjoy the main character. I find less and less to like about Rapp, a man driven by revenge. I do not find it admirable that his friend, the Director of the CIA, aids and abets Rapps desire for revenge. And I like even less the many macho comments inserted by the author about the stupidity of diplomacy and the wisdom of excessive violence as the only viable type of foreign policy. On the other hand, I was astounded that the author provided no resolution concerning the security breach by a high ranking cabinet official, a piece of information given to a foreign government that led to an attack on the convalescing hero at a CIA safe house. Perhaps because the author would have had to have the hero murder the cabinet official to keep him in character? Rating the book is difficult for me. It ranks high as a thriller style page-turner (B+) but low in credibility (D). So hopefully that explains my C rating.

All in all, many fun books. May I also add that if you are ever in Penang, Malaysia, you will find the Equatorial Hotel to be a relaxing spot to read a good mystery!

Monday, May 19, 2008

China Trade - Fun plot, easy read

China Trade was a mixed bag for me, but on balance, I like it and will probably read one or two more from the series. This book was selected because Rozan won an Edgar for a book later in her series, and this time we went for the book that started the adventures of the sleuth. The Edgar winner was Winter and Night (2002), and it’s the eighth book in the series. I enjoyed China Trade well enough to read Winter and Night and possibly a few others in the series.

A lot of books start with, “given the way it all turned out” where the author gives a big hint and I typically enjoy the author, through the first person comment, sharing with us that way. Along with that I like the self-deprecating comments, usually humorous, about herself (the Chinese-American PI, Lydia). Examples in chapter 1 – “My family all thinks it [I’m going to screw up].” “My hair, when it turns, will probably go messily grey.” Etc

For the most part, I liked the dialog. Just as I have said many times how much I like Spenser’s witticisms, and I found the dialog here pretty entertaining. I have to admit though, sometimes the dialog between Lydia and her boyfriend Bill got repetitive and strained. The overall feel in their relationship reminded me of Nick and Nora of The Thin Man a little more than a Susan (Silverman) and Spenser relationship. It will be interesting to see if Rozan can fill out the personality of Bill a bit better in future stories.

I like suspense in a book, but this was not a thriller and does not pretend to be. It is a PI / who-dunnit type story and, at that, it does quite well. There are some surprises and the many twists and turns are tied up extremely well at the end, which led me to give a high rating on our chart for that aspect.

The setting was done quite well, though not as well as some where the mood permeates everything, like the Janissary Tree and Devil in a Blue Dress which we have read previously. Still, the mother-daughter relationship, and many other aspects of the Chinese-American community present an interesting and different environment for a story.

My ratings for the book totaled: 84.5 -- a solid “B.”


Update - Eight days later.

I just finished reading another SJ Rozan book, Stone Quarry. My respect for Rozan has jumped a thousand-fold.

This book, like China Trade, is told in the first person and features Bill Smith and Lydia Chin. But here is the amazing thing: it is Bill Smith's voice, not Lydia's! And Rozan pulls this off very, very well. You have to read both books to appreciate the difference of style that is required to create a successful first person story from two completely different perspectives. I am truly wowed by what Rozan accomplished. I doubt many could do it.

I admit to the prejudice that female mystery writers cannot create the grit that I tend to like. But Rozan does it in Stone Quarry. The smoking, drinking hard-boiled image is done well. The suspense is up a tad from China Trade.

In my review of China Trade, I suggested that Bill's character is underdeveloped. In this book, Rozan eliminates that critique faster than a car can fall into a quarry. We learn more about his past, his preferences, and his values.

Although this book is also a solid "B," I can say that my interest in reading more of Rozan's books has shot up higher after Stone Quarry.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Amber Room - In the News

Last year I read The Amber Room: A Novel by Steve Berry, which, incidentally, I recommend. It was a good thriller that revolved around the discovery of clues leading to a chase for treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II and hidden away just before their defeat. The focus is on the legendary Amber Room which was part of a palace in St Petersburg, Russia. During the war, the Nazis stripped the room of its panels of gold and amber. With a few exceptions, they have not been seen since the war.

I found it fairly entertaining; I recommend the book. I don't write reviews on Amazon, but if I did I would give it 4 stars.

Today I was intrigued by news reports about the real Amber Room hunters. I imagine Steve had already researched all this and maybe met these people. As in the book, a presumed underground vault in the former East Germany has been identified. It is presently being cautiously dug out. If you read the book - read the news! If you find the news story fascinating, read the book. It is easy to see that here was an author who started with historical and current day facts and asked, "What if...?"

Steve Berry also authored The Romanov Prophecy: A Novel which our mystery book club read about two years ago. That book was fascinating for the history context, but I did not enjoy the plot line as much - only because I am not a fan of stories that have a bit of a supernatural/spiritual twist to them. There was a bit of "it was ordained by God/the gods" in the plot which turned me off. Otherwise, it was a great story.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Comments on the The Tin Roof Blowdown

This is the first James Lee Burke book I have read, so obviously the first in the Dave Robicheaux series. Although starting with the 16th book in the series, instead of the first, is not my favorite way to read a series, I am finding that it is not difficult to fit into the story line. As is typical in a series, the character has progressed and has a history, and the current book makes references to that history, but it does not take away from the new reader's experience.

However, there are references to the origin of Alafair, Robicheaux's daughter that rang a bell in my memory (given my memory, it must have been a Liberty Bell-sized gong). She says- "You see, I am Indian. I was born in a village in El Salvador. A Catholic priest tried to fly my mother and me into the United States, but we crashed off Southwest Pass. My mother drowned in the plane." [p.161] It's not the first time this fact is mentioned in the book, but this time the bell rang loud enough for me to hear it. So I checked. Sure enough, I remember a movie in which something like that happens. Turns out the movie was based on the second book in the Robicheaux series, Heaven's Prisoners. Might want to check it out, but then again, it might ruin the mental picture you have of the hero.

Changing the due date starting with March book

When I started the blog, and posting the books to read each month, I thought it would be useful to leave a 10-15 day gap between the day that our town library book club finished the book and the date for our online readers to finish the book. I finding that to be a bad idea - mainly because it confuses me! Soooooo... I'm changing that plan. For our online readers, the current book is still due March 10, as posted. However beginning with the next book, Devil in a Blue Dress, the due date will be the 30th of each month. Thanks.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Book Give-Away on Palmer Website

You may want to visit Michael Palmer's website! He has an easy-to-enter give-away contest.

Jabberwocky Bookstore Hosts Michael Palmer

I have always enjoyed a good medical thriller by Michael Palmer. Although he lives locally (Marblehead, MA), I have not had the opportunity to meet him. But I hear that he will be signing his latest book, The First Patient, at the Jabberwocky Bookshop, at the Tannery (50 Water St) in Newburyport, MA.

Time: Friday, March 14, 2008 7:00 p.m.
Location: Jabberwocky Bookshop
Title of Event: Michael Palmer
Join best-selling medical thriller author Michael Palmer as he discusses his latest white-knuckle read, The First Patient.

From the advert...

Gabe Singleton and Andrew Stoddard were roommates at the Naval Academy in Annapolis years ago. Today, Gabe is a country doctor and his friend Andrew has gone from war hero to governor to President of the United States. One day, while the United States is embroiled in a bitter presidential election campaign, "Marine One" lands on Gabe's Wyoming ranch, and President Stoddard delivers a disturbing revelation and a startling request. His personal physician has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, and he desperately needs Gabe to take the man's place. Despite serious misgivings, Gabe agrees to come to Washington. It is not until he is ensconced in the White House medical office that Gabe realizes there is strong evidence that the President is going insane. Facing a crisis of conscience--as President Stoddard's physician, he has the power to invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment to transfer presidential power to the Vice President--Gabe uncovers increasing evidence that his friend's condition may not be due to natural causes.

Who? Why? And how? The President's life is at stake. A small-town doctor suddenly finds himself in the most powerful position on earth, and the safety of the world is in jeopardy. Gabe Singleton must find the answers, and the clock is ticking. . . .

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Our Book Club in the News!

It was exciting to see book clubs featured in a recent issue of our regional newspaper, the Cape Ann Beacon... and to get coverage for our local library and our Mystery Book Club. So with this post, the cat is out of the bag! You will learn the identity/location of the library book club I referred to in various initial posts as well as my real identity! Makes me think of a Superman plot where Lois finds out about Clark Kent.

OK- here we are... well not quite. We had about 4 more members arrive after the photographer left. This picture was taken from the stacks/upper level. Looks almost like the setting for a mystery, don't you think? We have a grand little library building.

In the next picture, you can see Mike, our assistant librarian and moderator just to the left of the table lamp listening patiently to the guy to the right (me) make a point about Joe Finder's Paranoia. You can tell from the picture that we are a bit of a handful for our moderator-- it is not unusual to have more than one conversation going on at once. We are very animated throughout our meetings.

We meet at the Manchester Public Library, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. And you can read the news story about book clubs here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Are high tech companies paranoid?

Oh yeah. My personal experience is that competition is fierce and security is strict. In several companies I visited, your escort goes into the rest room with you. This is not true of all companies in any way, but it is real enough.

So I found Joe Finder's Paranoia quite fascinating. In fact, it was one of my best reading experiences in a year.

Finder captured the corporate vocabulary and conversation really well, accurately reflecting the tone of the engineers and senior managers as well as the lower level employees.

Finder's previous novels made use of his occupational background with the CIA to create stories of international intrigue; this was his first book in a corporate setting (succeeding books are also set in a corporate world). Paranoia is a fascinating concoction of corporate espionage. It is way over the top, especially the ending which caught me totally off-guard. Still Finder makes the unbelievable plot totally plausible because the characters and corporate setting are so realistic. As was discussed in our library book club, he is just as successful as Gary Braver is in Flashback. Braver's thriller also "sucks you in" because the science references and nursing home settings are so totally believable. The plot therefore becomes plausible. Just so, Finder's corporate descriptions and high tech references allow you to move into that world with your credibility radar turned low.

Is real-world corporate espionage even a little bit like the book? See what Finder says.

There is also a theme in this book, along the lines of Who can you trust? Who are your real friends? It was not in your face, but it was there and I liked that. I must say that I really related to the relationship of the main character to his obnoxiously cranky and ill father. Well done, and absolutely part of the plot and theme.

I have not read Power Play, Finder's newest book, but I have read Killer Instinct and Company Man. I liked Paranoia the best. And although Killer Instinct won the Thriller Award, three of us (in our library Mystery Book Club) liked Paranoia better.

Also, Finder has an awesome author website with lots of great information.

2009 POLL #2--Do Mystery Stories and Political Bias Mix? What is closest to your view?