Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cold War Betrayal in A LEGACY OF SPIES

A Legacy of Spies by John LeCarre revisits the uneasy days of the Cold War when British Intelligence mounted an operation in East Germany that went cruelly wrong.

In LeCarre's fictional world, the British spy agency is called the Circus. The novel follows a newly opened investigation by present day authorities into an early 1960s Circus operation with the code name Windfall. The events of Windfall were famously portrayed in the author's early novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

In this retrospective look back at what really happened in Windfall, old buried secrets are exposed. The novel is narrated by retired former spy Peter Guillam, who is called back to London to answer tough questions. Files about Windfall are missing. Things have been covered up. Lives were lost during the execution of Windfall. How much does Guillam know?

The novel moves between flashback events of the past spy operation and the current interrogation of Guillam. What is revealed are the cold blooded decisions that were made to sacrifice lesser British agents in order to protect a more highly placed undercover spy within East German intelligence. This is the author's sour commentary on the amoral compromises and personal betrayals that are always at the heart of any intelligence work.

A Legacy of Spies is a slow, thoughtful read, not a spy thriller. The novel will be appreciated most by long time John LeCarre readers, especially for the reappearance of familiar characters like spymaster George Smiley and Peter Guillam.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TWIN PEAKS Finale: What Does it All Mean?

The Twin Peaks revival series has ended, fittingly with a final scream of horror from Laura Palmer, just as the original series began with another scream.

The new series was uneven, with striking moments at times, and other scenes that seemed to add little and go nowhere. The series was overlong at eighteen episodes, where a tighter run of ten episodes could have been more compelling. Most enjoyable was the chance to return again to the town of Twin Peaks itself and reconnect with familiar characters, much older now, from the original series.

Key to understanding the storyline are some basic themes from director David Lynch:

1. The fluidity of time between past and future.

2. The link between conscious reality and dream world reality.

3. The existence of a transcendent evil force beneath the surface of the normal world.

4. The idea that individual lives may exist in multiple different time streams.

Twin Peaks is a surrealist narrative, driven by psychological/emotional meaning, not literal, conventional plot structure. This has the effect of floating through a disjointed, fragmented nightmare with no logical anchor.

The series ends with FBI Agent Dale Cooper returning to one happy time stream life as Douglass Jones with his family in Las Vegas. In another variation, Cooper finds Laura Palmer living in a different time stream life and he tries to undo the events of her original murder in Twin Peaks. The result is Laura's terrifying vision of the nightmare of her murder in another timeline.

That final brilliant sequence was a fitting jolt back to the sinister mystery still hidden beneath the placid, quirky surface of Twin Peaks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

PARADISE VALLEY a Chilling Western Crime Thriller

Paradise Valley by C.J. Box is the author's third Western-set crime novel to feature sheriff's investigator Cassie Dewell, who appeared previously in The Highway and Badlands. Cassie is mid-thirties, not very tall, and somewhat overweight. But she's a sharp investigator and a good shot when she has to be. This combination makes her character both realistic and appealing.

Cassie began her police career in Montana, where she first got onto the track of an elusive serial killer called the Lizard King, a long haul trucker who abducts and murders his female victims across the country. She moved to a new sheriff's department in North Dakota, but has stayed alert for any new traces of the Lizard King. When her new lead on the killer leads to a disastrous police operation, it costs Cassie her job.

She doesn't give up and returns to Montana to continue her obsessive hunt on her own. Paradise Valley is a chilling cat-and-mouse contest between a determined investigator and a cunning predator set against a landscape of rugged mountain terrain. It's another great read from C.J. Box, who's one of the best writers in the regional crime thriller genre.

Monday, July 24, 2017

THE LATE SHOW a New Police Thriller from Michael Connelly

The Late Show is a gripping police procedural that introduces a new main character from author Michael Connelly. Renee Ballard is an LAPD detective who works the overnight shift, dubbed the "late show." She and her partner respond to crime scenes that occur during the night hours. Ballard is stuck on the night shift because of a past clash with a supervisor who still holds a grudge against her.

Ballard's job is to do initial crime reports, then turn cases over to the regular day shift detectives to follow up. She's not supposed to be involved in the cases after that. But she responds to two crime scenes during one shift that she can't let go of. One is the vicious beating of a transgender hooker by an unknown assailant. The other case is a multiple homicide shooting inside a sketchy nightclub, where a young waitress is killed.

Ballard begins to run her own investigation of these crimes without her supervisor's knowledge. She has to cut corners and hide her actions within the LAPD, even from her partner. But as she gets closer to a suspect in the beating case, and the full truth behind the nightclub shooting, Ballard's lone wolf act leads her into imminent personal danger.

The Late Show is another superb police procedural by Michael Connelly, with an interesting new character in Renee Ballard, who shares the same rogue cop traits with another Connelly character, Harry Bosch.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

COLD EARTH Continues Shetland Mystery Series

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves is the latest book in the mystery series set in the Shetland Islands off the east coast of Scotland. The novels, which were adapted into a popular PBS TV series, feature Inspector Jimmy Perez, head of the small island police force.

Cold Earth opens with a sudden natural disaster. Heavy winter rains on Shetland cause the land to give way on a saturated hillside. The resulting landslide sweeps downward, crushing an isolated house in its path. When the mud-filled wreckage is searched later, a woman's dead body is found inside.

The victim is unidentified. No one seems to know who was staying in the rental house. As Jimmy Perez tries to identify her, an unexpected new issue arises. An autopsy reveals the woman was murdered, strangled before the landslide ever destroyed the house.

The woman's name is eventually learned. She appears to have been having an affair with someone local, but who? Perez has a list of possible male suspects, one of whom is a killer. The answer comes in a chilling climax that gives prophetic meaning to the novel's title. For fans of the Shetland series, Cold Earth is a worthy new entry.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

John Grisham Hits the Beach in CAMINO ISLAND

Summer is beach reading time and John Grisham offers some entertaining vacation fare with his new novel Camino Island. The story is set on an island off the Florida Atlantic coast, a popular tourist destination.

The novel opens with a daring heist of rare original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from a vault at Princeton University. The manuscripts could be worth millions on the black market, if they can be secretly handled and sold. After the theft, the manuscripts have disappeared, hidden somewhere for the time being.

The insurer of the Fitzgerald works is on the hook for a gigantic payout if the stolen property isn't recovered. But they have a potential suspect in sight --- Bruce Cable, a local bookstore owner on Camino Island, who deals in rare book sales. What the insurer needs is someone undercover who can get close to Cable and look for info on the stolen manuscripts.

The insurer recruits Mercer Mann, a struggling novelist with a childhood connection to Camino Island. As Mercer returns to live again on the island, she joins the local literary circle and begins her tricky effort to learn the truth about suspected criminal dealer Bruce Cable. Is he really in possession of the stolen Fitzgerald works or not?

Camino Island is not a thriller, but instead a leisurely, rambling crime tale with a scenic locale, colorful characters, and amusing insight into the business world of book sellers and writers. John Grisham fans should enjoy their vacation reading with this one.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

THE THIRST by Jo Nesbo a Hunt For Vampirist Killer

The Thirst by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is the latest crime novel in the series that features Oslo police detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh). Harry is a police legend for his past hunting down of fiendish serial killers, portrayed in previous Nesbo novels such as The Snowman and The Leopard.

Harry Hole is now a lecturer at the police college, no longer an active detective. But he is brought back onto an elite team trying to stop a new serial killer called the Vampirist. This sadistic killer has stalked and killed several female victims using a diabolical weapon --- a set of metal dentures which he uses to bite the victims, causing massive blood loss.

Harry obsessively pursues the killer, facing his own darkest inner demons as he does so. A suspect is identified, but the case takes unexpected twists as it appears that the Vampirist is not acting alone in his murder spree.

  The Thirst is a heavy read at 450 pages that sometimes bogs down in too much discussion of criminal psychology and motivation. The murder scenes are grisly and unpleasant. The plot is overly complicated and finally reaches a climax that seems somewhat contrived. That said, Jo Nesbo fans will enjoy seeing iconic character Harry Hole on the case again.