Suspense / Thriller


Still having barely enough reading time this June, I reached for an easy to read book,  more like an airport read…

Author :  Brad Meltzer

Date of First Publication :   September 5, 2006 (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition : Grand Central Publishing

This Edition’s Publication Date :  May 1, 2007  (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Warner Vision

ISBN-10: 044661212X

ISBN-13: 978-0446612128

No. of pages :  622

The Story :

A crazed assassin attacks the U.S. Presidential entourage at a NASCAR race and changes Wes Holloway’s life forever.  Wes, the President’s aide,  survives with disfiguring facial while the President’s best friend, Ron Boyle, is shot and killed.  But after eight years, Wes spots Boyle, very much alive.  The CIA and the FBI are after him for information and the assassin is on the loose once more.  Now Wes must figure out the mystery of Boyle buried in old crossword puzzles, Freemason history and Jefferson’s two-hundred-year-old codes, before the Book of Fate catches up to him.

The Review :

One of the factors influencing my decision in purchasing a book is the one-liner reviews from respected magazines, newspapers and authors, just like  these  encouraging comments for the book:

“Move over, Da Vinci; take your code and shove it!…a page-turner.” —- Liz Smith, New York Post

“Meltzer’s tale of intrigue and pathos  in politics engrosses.”  —–  Entertainment Weekly

“A teasing code and a tireless pursuit….the jolts just keep coming.”  —- New York Daily News

Most of the time  I can rely on these little snippets.  But this is one time these people have completely missed the mark.  How they can describe this book in glowing terms make me suspect these may be paid opinions.

As a thriller, it isn’t so thrilling.  Meltzer has given us a bland plot sprinkled with mysterious symbols, both of which seem to make the book trail sadly after Dan Brown’s  wake.  With puzzles,  symbols and the references to the Freemasons (for perhaps more mystery), it looks like Meltzer is simply trying to cash in on the tidal wave from Dan Brown’s popular theme of weaving symbolism  into his thrillers.

Alright, he says he meticulously researched  everything.  I am not disputing that.  It’s just why try to style yourself, no matter how much less, after another author?

One other thing, it feels as if Meltzer is trying too hard.   Why the FreeMasons are so crucial to the plot, I haven’t a clue.  Even the schizoid character, Nico, seems simply thrown in to up  the ante albeit being an unnecessary angle.  Moreover , the whole story simply does not focus on its title, The Book of Fate, which from beginning to end appears to be  some sort of vague Bible.  There is not much reference to it nor does the plot give it any importance. I believe the novel was probably titled so because it just sounds great and  intriguing.  After all, it must sell, sell, sell!

To Read Or Not To Read :

Reading this book is like grabbing something so one has something to do.  After all I’ve said though, it isn’t very bad when you get down to reading it but it isn’t great either.  Rather mediocre.  A read, toss, and forget-about-it novel of which its mediocrity is its merit of getting you adequately by when you’re just killing time.

In A Nutshell :

In the end, you come out not clear about what the novel’s  Book of Fate really is.  Oh and the whole conspiracy theory  is really not much of an attention grabber, either.    Again, bland and boring.

The Book of Fate is definitely an airport read, if you don’t mind the watered down Dan Brown wanna-be.   It’s  engaging in the first dozen or so pages then the gripping interest peters out and the action stays on an even keel throughout the middle.  Not an engrossing piece; but guaranteed you won’t miss your plane with this one.

My Mark :  Mediocre  — A not so thrilling thriller

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A respite from the fantasy-like quality of reading imposed by my two challenges.  So on to science fiction in the realm of epidemiology for a little more reality hashed into the fiction.

Author :  Juris Jurjevics

First Publication Date :  August 18, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Viking Adult

ISBN-10: 0670034371

ISBN-13: 978-0670034376

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Something has killed four prominent scientists at the Trudeau station, a marvel of a habitat built  for the harsh environs of the Arctic.   Top scientists around the world who had come to the station to study this inhospitable frontier, are at a loss to explain the gruesome deaths of their colleagues.   The unknown “bug”  leaves its victims with their pupils missing and their bodies horribly contorted from excruciating spasms.

As an answer to the station’s plea for help, top epidemiologist Dr. Jessica Hanley braves the perils of the Arctic in winter to discover the nature and cure for the new disease.  No mean feat this, but on top of it, Dr. Hanley discovers a plan to sabotage her mission.  She must protect her work to find the “bug” and its cure as quickly as possible.

The Review :

The Trudeau Vector is a  biothriller with loads of  fascinating trivia.  It’s the trivia that thrills primarily over the formulaic plot.   It seems the author didn’t think much of the story line and simply followed what worked in the past with others.  He also does that “evil Russian” subplot to add  to the thrill  of the chase.   Corny but then again your concentration isn’t riveted on this angle.  It’s all on what malignant vector this author had cooked up.

What I think Jurjevics wanted to do was pack the book chock-full of info about the Arctic and epidemiology.   It really isn’t tedious if you were interested in the premise of diseases and environments in the first place. 

Take these little factoids:

“…Remember, viruses can’t really die.  They are not alive; they can’t reproduce unless they have living cells to hijack and turn into virus factories.  But toss the pieces of a virus in a test tube with living cells and it recombines, self-assembles, resurrects.”  — p. 191

“Inuit can’t do milk. We don’t have the extra enzymes to process it…”  —- p. 282

“…So what else is unusual about Inuit physiology, besides no body hair?”…” An extra artery near the heart.  Supposed to keep us warm.  We’re mostly right-handed, rarely left.  And we have small hands…”  — p.283

Some of you may want to know about the characters.  Well, character building is mediocre at best but not bad; however, Jurjevics does not make it clear what his characters are thinking.  For instance, the reader will be surprised why Dr. Hanley would  suddenly feel  like going to bed with one of the Trudeau scientists without a hint nor clue as to why she would.  Perhaps, depth is not much of an issue where thrillers are concerned, as action pacing is of prime importance.  In this, Jurjevics succeeds as the action unfolds in very good strides so that you do get engrossed in the novel.

For a debut novel, The Trudeau Vector is quite good and comes across as very well researched.  On the premise that it is so, then I have learned new things.  And I do love my fiction interspersed with hard facts.

However, I must say that the conclusion, about 5 pages toward the end,  left me a bit unsatisfied as its resolution was somewhat anti-climactic.  I guess I preferred a great bang of an ending to this one.  But then, the conclusion was plausible.  So not much complaint from me.

My Mark :  Very Good







Author :  Tom Rob Smith

Publication Date :  April 29, 2008  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

ISBN-10: 0446402389

ISBN-13: 978-0446402385

No. of pages : 448

The Story :

It is 1953.  Stalinist Russia is adamant at being a utopian state  where equality and  contentment are the core of its existence.  For where contentment thrives, there could be no crime or evil, the spawns of Western capitalism.

Leo Demidov is an officer of the MGB, the state secret police and guardian of these ideals.  Leo believes in the system and sees the necessity of arresting anyone that is remotely suspected of undermining those very goals.  Unfortunately in an environment that breeds mistrust, Leo falls victim to suspicion as well.

With a humiliating demotion in which he and his wife, Raisa, are shipped to a small town and his parents sent to live in squalor, Leo comes to terms with finally realizing the futility and wrongness of the communist system.

Meanwhile, the impossible has been happening.   Children are being murdered across one side of the country and all murders are brutally done in the same fashion.  A serial killer is on the loose,  but authorities refuse to consider the possibility of a Western style criminal in their midst.

To survive emotionally, Leo must have a purpose.  With a strong patriotic sense despite his disappointment in the government, Leo with his wife, Raisa, make it their personal missions to stop the murders and prove the existence of an insane killer,  one no one wants to admit to.

The Review

If I were to list books that have made an impression on me, Child 44 would definitely make that list.  It opens with a gripping first chapter which promises to keep you glued to the book ’til its end.

Tom Rob Smith does an admirable job of depicting the Soviet Union under the dangerous and repressive regime of Stalin with vivid descriptions of a dystopian society (only this was real) blanketed in fear, mistrust, and poverty.  His well-reasearched background aptly describes  Stalinist Russia where  its control-paranoid government assumed guilt until innocence was proven so that most of those arrested were summarily sentenced without adequate trial.  Moreover, in the pursuit of contentment and equality,  ideals of a communist society, it  was inconceivable for the system to admit to the existence of crime outside the political sphere;  hence criminal acts such as serial killing was an aberrant phenomenon maintained to be strictly a by-product of Western freedom and capitalism and therefore cannot exist logically in a communist state.

It is in this environment that his character, Leo, must root out a serial killer, defying official state denials of the existence of such a criminal.  Leo,  is an ardent believer of the Soviet system.  Everything Leo works for is for the collective  good.  As a ranking officer of the KGB’s predecessor, the MGB, he flushes out dissident citizens or those deemed to be dangerous to the state’s equilibrium and ideals.    But when Leo suddenly realizes that his latest prisoner was undoubtedly innocent,  his purpose of helping maintain the perfect state crashes to meaninglessness.   A real patriot at heart and despite a humiliating demotion, he decides to still have faith in his country , just not in his government, and sets about making a personal mission of rooting out a serial child killer, despite the dangers of incurring the disapproval of the MGB.

Smith injects great realism in this book.  His very much flawed hero deals with events that rarely reward his efforts,  believably true in such a milieu.   Moreover, he draws from genuine events in Russian history such as the Holodomor, the horrendous famine between 1932-1933 where millions, especially in the Ukraine, perished of starvation.  Accounts have mentioned numerous cases of cannibalism at this time.  These, the Gulags,  the excesses of  party leaders, the general misery and hopelessness  were hushed behind an Iron Curtain which trapped all that did not conform to the Communist ideals of a utopia.    The angle of the serial killer is patterned after a true-to-life Soviet child murderer,  Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed The Butcher of Rostov or The Red Ripper, who sexually abused, tortured, and murdered women and children,  from 1978-1990.  The author simply borrows his story and places it within the timeframe of 1953.

The writing is predominantly narrative;  characters’ spoken lines aren’t many and are all in italics, a rather uncommon lay-out which veers from the traditional presentation of a dialogue.   It’s refreshingly different but it works quite well.

As a debut novel, Child 44 is superb.  The strongest asset of this book  is it’s well developed atmosphere.  The setting is palpable, the characters and events seem so real that I could not stop turning the pages until I reached the end at 3:30 a.m.  However, it isn’t perfect and sadly, events toward the ending came out a bit contrived and questionable which tarnished the reading experience a bit.   It is just a teeny blight, however, not enough to render the book a disappointment.    In fact, other readers may be perfectly happy with its conclusion.   Overall, a marvelous, marvelous read!


My Mark :  Outstanding!   (Would have merited Excellence, if not for that little smudge)

Author :  M. J. Rose

First Published :  September 1, 2007

This Edition’s Publication Date :  October 1, 2008  (reprint edition)

Publisher :  Mira

ISBN-10: 0778325768

ISBN-13: 978-0778325765

No. of pages : 464

The Story :

Josh Ryder barely survives a terrorist’s bomb and wakes up, changed forever. He begins having flashbacks of being Julius, a pagan running from Christian persecution in ancient Rome and entrusted with a secret treasure with the power to unlock one’s past lives. That and a forbidden love with a Vestal Virgin brings about an ill-fated destiny that begs for correction in his modern life as Joshua.

Confused and determined to know more about his reincarnated condition, Josh turns to the Phoenix Foundation, a facility which studies past life regression in children. He is led to an important archeological find,  discovered by Professor Gabriela Chase.  The dig holds the  entrusted treasure, the Memory Stones, kept hidden for over two thousand years.  Josh and Gabriela must decipher its secret to solve Josh’s reincarnated questions and rescue Gabriela’s child.

The Review :

Despite the alluring title, The Reincarnationist is anything but. The bland writing style doesn’t do justice to its genre (adventure-thriller).  Surprisingly, even with a recommended reading list that seems to project the book as a well-researched material, the novel just doesn’t grab one by their lapels to be properly thrilling. Rather, it generally just plods along in spite of some occasional frissons of excitement in it.

Blah characterization may have to do a lot with the “ho-humness” of it all as well. Readers may not develop enough empathy for Josh’s character nor for the other characters until a really major thing happens to Gabriella Chase that makes her more palpable.  Other than that, you may not really care much for them.

An unsatisfying conclusion may provoke complaints too.  Perhaps The Reincarnationist’s inconclusiveness prepares for the book’s touted sequels, The Memorist (Book 2) and The Hypnotist (Book 3).   But if you were to read their synopses, you wouldn’t really find them as continuations.  (Shrug.)  Having not read the sequels, though, I may be wrong.

However, this book is not an all-out loser. It isn’t that bad; it just does not thrill as much as it should have. To think, reincarnation is a very interesting subject; and yet the book just does not entice the reader enough to delve more into it. You finish it, think ok, then promptly forget about it.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Read if you have nothing else more interesting on hand.  But I wonder if you’ll still want to tackle a rather average read after knowing it is  part of a series.

My Mark : Mediocre




It’s been more than two weeks since my last post.  I’ve been rather behind on my reading schedule with other distractions occupying most of my time.    What galvanized me to finally finish a post was a site I stumbled upon.  To my surprise and delight, a new site,  Philippine Blog Reviews,  posted a wonderful review on JO’s Bookshelf!   A big thank you to the site’s author/s.   So, I’m guiltily posting this review and hoping to stay on track this month.

Author :  John Le Carre

Date of First Publication :  December 12, 2000

Publisher of 1st Edition (Hardcover): Scribner

This Edition’s Publication Date (Paperback, Reprint Edition) :  November 2001

This Edition’s Publisher : Pocket Books Fiction

ISBN-10: 0743422910

ISBN-13: 978-0743422918

No. of pages :  576

The Story:

A wife of a British diplomat in Kenya is found naked, raped and brutally murdered;  her driver, decapitated.  Their companion, an African doctor, has gone missing.  Investigations by the British High Office, however, fail to satisfy the bereaved husband, Justin Quayle, so he undertakes his own by secreting away Tessa Quayle’s laptop and documents.

Justin discovers that his philanthropic wife, a Good Samaritan to the Africans she loved, had compiled a huge body of evidence against crime of such vile proportions involving developmental medicines, clinical trials,  both British and African governments, and large pharmaceutical companies.  Justin follows her trail only to find himself in the same danger, hunted by Tessa’s killers and by his own government, both determined to keep their secrets.

The Review :

I do like novels that take up a moral stance on real issues.  The Constant Gardener has the temerity to be a bullhorn, waking us to the existence of genuine medical crimes happening in Third World countries, mostly impoverished , vulnerable nations like Africa.  Le Carre seems to be sounding a furious call to all about awareness of apalling drug trials by large, pharmaceutical companies, bribed scientific opinions, cover ups on side effects, and the whole sick trade of getting a new, profitable drug to the First World markets.

It seems Le Carre loves layers and likes to employ this  on his characters and plot, wrapping them up in a tight onion of  surface details, then peeling their layers to reveal more as he goes along.

The novel opens with a shocking tragedy which somehow does not focus immediately on the lead character.  The author sets our attention on a supporting one and he slowly unveils his lead after shifting focus on him well after about a humdred and thirty pages or so.  What this technique does is leave us wondering at the start about the husband’s rather bland reception of his wife’s murder.  As attention increasingly shifts toward the main character, the author slowly peels back layer after layer of his personality so that by the end of the book, Justin is fully fleshed out in a very refined and gradual manner.  And thus you witness a master of characterization at work.

Take his secondary characters as well.  From a seemingly set cast, Le Carre takes us gradually behind their personas to reveal a complex set of people that give the novel an added richness and prove the author’s craft at character building.

To Read Or Not To Read :

His writing is elegant and vivid but one cannot say that he writes simply.  Nor is this novel a fast, easy read as most thrillers go.  So as much as the story is well conceived,  his writing may be a tad labyrinthine.  Just a tad, but still enough to make it difficult for some readers to get into the story.  It may be a chore keeping up with who’s who as some characters mentioned early on are referred to again  much later that the reader would have  quite forgotten him.

I also rather wish that Le Carre immersed his readers more in African life.  He skims over details giving us only tiny glimpses.  It would have made the book far more interesting if he delved on the subject a little more, not to mention the greater impact it would have had if it were able to sear his message into his reader’s minds and get them to really sympathize with the African plight.

The reading pace could be best described as erratic, at times picking up a swift tempo then slowing down to a somnambulant gait only to pick up the  brisk tread again after a while.  In other words, this is not really a page-turner that would keep one up late into the night; but, it is still a great novel that delivers a powerful urgent message and takes a very strong moral stance.

As An Aside:

If you don’t already know, this book was adapted to cinema in 2005.  Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz play Justin and Tessa Quayle, respectively.   I haven’t seen the movie but after this book, I’d like to see how it played out on the big screen.

In A Nutshell:

In spite of  the tendency of the author’s writing style to be a bit complex, The Constant Gardener is a well-written book that rewards constant readers, those who invest a little more concentration in reading this, with well developed characters, insight into global malpractices of the medical world  (if one isn’t  very aware of this yet),  and of course, a darn good story.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  Allan Folsom

Date of Publication :  May 1999  (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Warner Books

ISBN-10: 0446604534

No. of pages :  667

The Story :

A Cardinal’s confession seals Father Daniel Addison’s fate as a VIP target of a conspiracy rooted in the highest echelons of the Vatican.  Before he disappears, he leaves a desperate message for his brother, Harry.  The cardinal vicar of Rome is suddenly assassinated and Father Daniel is blamed. Soon after, a bus explodes with Father Daniel onboard.

Harry Addision flies to Italy to claim his brother’s body, only to discover that his brother is alive but missing and himself, framed for the murder of an Italian policeman.  An American on the run in a foreign country, Harry relies on his wits and luck while on the trail of his brother, to unravel the horrific conspiracy he had unwittingly become the target of.

The Review :

Folsom tries to a spin a thriller of a grandiose scale and fails miserably.  The basis of his conspiracy encompasses elements too immense in scale and too opposite (i.e. China, the Vatican) to be woven together believably.  Well, at least by his attempts in this book.  The plot to get the Vatican to have a strong religious hold in China is just way too preposterous.

Even the characters behave unrealistically, by whom I mean:  the evil Cardinal who believes he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great (Catholics do not believe in reincarnation);  a young nun who just has the temerity to face a man in a sheer nightgown; a very sick priest still able to fight from a wheelchair.  Moreover, the sex scenes seem forced into the story.  The story could actually do without them.

On the whole, though, Day of Confession isn’t a very bad read, if you like books equivalent to B movies.  As a thriller, it still fast-paced enough;  it’s just some stuff are hard to swallow.

In A Nutshell :

This is a book to skip if you have other options in line.  Day of Confession feels like a contrived piece by an author who needed to come up with something for a deadline.

If you were to look into other reviews, it seems people picked this up on the merit of Folsom’s earlier work, Day After Tomorrow, which everyone agrees was a smashing good thriller.  I’ve read Machiavelli Covenant last year (my review here) and it was rather enjoyable.  Perhaps, Day of Confession just happened to be this writer’s dud.

My Mark  :  Fair

After two books on the supernatural in succession, I had the taste for something more grounded, more real.  Ironically, Exile was in my list for the Fall To Reading Challenge.  It’s a novel that can’t be anything but so painfully present— a fictitious story but one wholly based on current world events, dealing  in particular with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Author :  Richard North Patterson

Publication Date :  January 9, 2007  (Hardcover – 1st edition)

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805079475

ISBN-13: 978-0805079470

No. of pages :  576

The Story:

The hopes for a beginning toward peace between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants are dashed when Jewish Prime Minister Amos Ben-Aron is assassinated by a Palestinian suicide bomber on American soil.

A brilliant Jewish lawyer and  promising politician,  David,  witnesses the horrifying murder of the man whom he admires and believes to be the catalyst for peace in the Middle East.  Suddenly he gets a call from a woman whom he had allowed himself to forget.  Hana Arif, the Palestinian law student he had been helplessly in love with  thirteen years ago,  suddenly calls and says she has been accused of being instrumental to the crime.   Would David help her?

Against the certainty of becoming a pariah in his Jewish community, of irredeemably breaking his engagement with his Jewish fiance,  and of wiping out the brilliant political career path he had been so ambitious of, David with his ideals and buried passion, takes up the cudgels of a seemingly impossible case to exonerate Hana.

The case impels him to take a closer look at his culture and at the long-standing enmity between Palestinians and Jews, by going through their histories and understanding both sides’ perspectives.  David follows a dangerous trail for information which takes him to Israel, the West Bank,  and Lebanon as he chases the elusive truth to save his client.

The Review :

I am writing this review just after I have turned the last page of this book.  I’ve been so riveted by it, turning page after page well into the night, as I came to understand much more about the volatile Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Patterson has written a rare combination of a page-turner and an educational read which explains the present complex issues in the Middle East conflict.   Although couched in fiction, this book is a definite eye-opener  to those who do not understand or had been indifferent to the crisis that presently is, I believe, the greatest and most urgent threat to world peace.

Exile is the type of fiction novel that through its entertainment value, compels you to know more beyond it.  I am inspired to research more on the subject of the ongoing war between the Jews, Palestinians, and the Arab world at large.  It is scary in its magnitude of hatred and seemingly hopeless for its dearth of solution as each side believes so absolutely in the right of its cause.   Basically a war of land rights and sovereignty,  it draws its complexities from bringing  religion, racial history and culture, internal factions, and international politics into the fray, a tangle of elements that cannot be extricated singly to make solutions.

Patterson’s courtroom scenes are energetic,  intense, and a good read.  There is a lot going for this book as a suspense-crime-courtroom-thriller.  But the true merit of this book comes from the extensively researched issues backgounding this novel and the humane and impartial way the author represents the conflict for both sides that one cannot help but be emotionally moved at the plight of both Palestinians and Jews.

The novel never takes sides.  It simply presents the conflict from both perspectives and leaves it up to you to decide who is right.  Since it is impossible for one to make such an opinion with this book alone, Exile goads you to delve and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an open  and unbiased  mind.  Current events will never seem so one-dimensional and so distant after this.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Indeed, an important read!  To those, like me, who have been partially oblivious to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, this book should constitute the top of your TBR pile.  This novel is a good starter to point our way toward informing ourselves of a current volatile dilemma facing the world today.   Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist…whatever your leanings, we still cannot ignore that we are all inextricably connected and therefore will be involved, one way or another,  in this war.

It’s a thick novel but once you’re in it, you’d never feel its length.  In fact, you may end up wanting to know much more.

In A Nutshell:

Exile has successfully given an impartial yet emotional account of the Mid-East crisis.  It is not a finger-pointer ; no side is singled out to blame for starting this whole mess.  As it is, it is everyone and no one and but really the sordid side of human nature that has foisted this problem on us all.  As the author aptly writes:

“…The Promised Land, which many of each side believed was promised to them alone, might be consumed not merely by hatred and violence but also by the most banal of human faults—a failure to imagine the life of another.  The only common denominator of occupation was that it degraded everyone.” —- p. 401

“You know what amazes me, Zev?  it’s that so many Jews and Palestinians don’t give a damn about one another’s stories.  Too many Palestinians don’t grasp why three thousand years of death and persecution make Jews want their own homeland, or how suicide bombings alienate Jews and extend the occupation.   Too many Jews refuse to acknowledge their role in the misery of Palestinians since 1948, or that the daily toll of occupation helps fuel more hatred and violence.  So both become cliches:  Jews are victims and oppressors; Palestinians are victims and terrorists.  And the cycle of death rolls on… In three short weeks I’ve seen all kinds of suffering, from the families in Haifa to the misery of Hana’s parents.   But they live in different worlds…” — p.  407

Please pick up this book and be aware.  It’s a superb read, a must-read,  and will be well worth your time.

My Mark :  Excellent! +++

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