FATAL EXCHANGE by Russell Blake

15 03 2016

Fatal Exchange coverI am a big fan of Russell Blake’s JET series, so I downloaded the first of this other series with high expectations.

It is not the same. It was harder to read (mind you, almost anything would be harder to read than JET) – but especially the first fifty or sixty pages, and this because of the multiple changes of viewpoint. I hate that at the beginning of a story. You get a few pages of one character and setting, then are switched abruptly to another, then – when you could still remember the first – to a third, then a fourth – and when you do finally get back to the first – or was it the second? – you have forgotten what that was all about and have to turn back. (Not easy to do with a Kindle.)

I always give up at that point. Well, not always. I didn’t in this case, but only because he is a favourite author of mine and I was still hoping …

I won’t say it got better. It didn’t. And there were two totally different stories going on, two separate sets of murders and murderers, quite apart from the continuing multiple viewpoints.

But after a while two viewpoints began to stand out from the rest. Teresa (Tess), who turns out to be the link between the the two sets of murders – she is to be the next victim in both! – and Ron, the NYPD Detective that she, the beautiful tattooed and studded rebel, finds herself thrown together with.

Of course, I identified with Tess, and that’s how I came to finish the book. And to have downloaded the sequel, Fatal Deception. You can’t keep a good author down.

I can’t believe I said that. I know several good authors who have been kept down.

Anyway, you can’t keep this good author, Russell Blake, down.


26 11 2015

Persona Non Grata

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review

At first sight, just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting is know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.

The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.

But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:

While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …

Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.

I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.


6 09 2015

KramskiA thriller set in England with a Russian and an American as two of the three (or should that be four?) protagonists. Four, I think, because the three men that are there from the outset and form the nucleus of MI7 are soon joined by a young woman, Marcie Brown, who plays a larger and larger part as the story progresses until, it seems, she takes over completely and is the girl from Kandahar in the sequel The Girl from Kandahar. I haven’t read that yet, but definitely will.  There are several other extremely sympathetic characters who might be contenders for other reader’s choice of favourite character, but myself I identified with Marcie all through this first book and am sure I shall continue to do so as her adventures in Kandahar unfold.

Altogether, an excellent start to what could turn out to be an outstanding mystery series.

PRIME TARGET by Ellis Vidler

29 07 2015

Prime TargetPrime Target is the story of a women who witnesses her husband’s murder at the hands of an organised-crime boss and is immediately placed in the care of the FBI under the key witness protection scheme. When it becomes obvious – to her, at least – that one of the FBI agents is leaking her location every time she is moved following yet another attempt on her life she takes off on her own and a fairly ordinary story turns into something special. Unputdownable.


6 07 2015

Still no time at the moment for reviews (and not nearly enough for reading!) but I’ll try to clear the backlog again with a few quick notes.

First, then, The Girl Who Went Missing is set in Mumbai (Bombay) and is the story of an American girl’s search for her sister, who has disappeared while in India doing research on ancient Hindu temples. The author seems to know India well, and presents us with a very realistic portrayal of the trafficking of simple village girls from the provinces into Mumbai, ostensibly to work as maids in the houses of Bollywood film stars, but in fact destined for the red-light district, and in some cases to be sold to Arab traders for onward trafficking to the Gulf States.

It is basically a police procedural with, as I say, a fascinating setting, and I was very taken with the hero of the piece, Commisoner Oscar d’Costa. However, the style could be a bit zippier and the plot is too dependent on devices such as the two sisters both resolutely refusing to use mobile phones. Of course, the very existence of modern technology renders certain plots obsolete (unless you set your book in the past) but that is a challenge the writer must rise to; presenting the reader with a cop-out which is completely unrealistic is not good enough.


1 06 2015

Truth Will Out cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

Another police procedural from Jane Isaacs, this (earlier) one featuring DCI Helen Lavery, a character I identified and sympathised with much more closely than I did with the hero of her subsequent novel, Before It’s Too Late. As I said in my review of that one, the protagonist was boring and the book needed editing but there was enough about it, especially the character of the victim, to make me willing to give this other story a go.

Two young women driving back from Italy discover that they have been tricked into transporting a consignment of drugs into England. Then, after they arrive home, one of them is murdered and the other, terrified, goes into hiding, leaving the police, who know nothing of all this back-story, with an inexplicable murder on their hands.

Yes, there are still editing problems. In the other review I noted particularly LAY and LAID. Here I might single out PAST and PASSED, as in these examples: “… glancing at the shop fronts she past” and “A Land Rover rattled passed”. Is it incompetent editing or sloppy editing? Or is it no editing at all, and this is how the writer left it?

But that said, I did enjoy the book much more than the other one and look forward to reading more stories featuring DCI Helen Lavering.


25 05 2015

Before Its Too Late cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

A fairly standard and straightforward British police procedural set in Stratford on Avon and featuring for the first time Detective Inspector Will Jackman.

A Chinese girl, Min Li, has been abducted while spending a year in England as a student, and it is her we meet close-up-and-personal as it were when the story opens with a dive into the deep end told in the 1st Person and printed in italic. It acts as something like a prologue, but there are further chapters where we return to her in her horrible rat-infested cell scattered through the book.

The bulk of the story, though, focuses on DI Jackman and is told in the 3rd Person.

This works well, but Jackman himself didn’t really interest me. He is too ordinary. Exactly what you might meet at a provincial police station in the UK, no doubt, but fictional detectives need to be a little more extraordinary in some way.

And again, the story is set in Stratford-on-Avon – Shakespeare’s Stratford. Yet the events could just as easily have taken place in any ordinary connotation-free provincial English town, for absolutely no use whatsoever is made of its being set in Stratford.

One more gripe: we all know that many American writers (though never the top-rank ones) have terrible trouble with LIE-LAY-LAIN and LAY-LAID-LAID, but British writers don’t. Or shouldn’t. Yet again and again we find ourselves stumbling over lines like: [Alice (Jackman’s daughter)] laid flat on the floor of her study, eyes clamped together, Bach playing in the background. Alice loved Bach. Whenever she had a research problem, she laid in the dark with her music … (And “eyes clamped together“?)

But all that said, the strong female victim made a nice change and I did enjoy the story: witness the fact that I have just downloaded the author’s earlier The Truth Will Out – which I hope is better edited than this one!