Suspense

“The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M.J. Rose

 

Book Cover - Book of Lost Fragrances

MJ Rose delivers another suspenseful tale with The Book of Lost Fragrances.

 

A brother and sister have inherited the House of L'Etoile, and then discover the perfume company is in serious financial difficulty. They need a hit fragrance to save the corporation or else parts of it will have to be sold off, something Robbie does not want to do. Robbie feels that delving into the 250 year old family business history will uncover an ancient perfume formula that will save the day. He has the professional talent, but not the nose to sort through formulas that he knows the family possesses, somewhere hidden. His sister, Jac, has the nose, but not the interest in investigating something that she considers a fantasy. She is more pragmatic and wants to sell off bits to save the whole. Neither of them suspects at first that the lost fragrance could save more than just the business.

 

During the years since her mother’s death, Jac has suffered with unsettling dreams she does not understand. For a long time she (and others) thought she was mentally unbalanced and she never believed that she might be reliving the distant past. Her struggle with her own past, her trust issues, and her conversations with family ghosts – create a multi-layered, vulnerable lead character. We want her to make the right decisions, to be happy, trust, and find love again.

 

M.J. Rose believes that who we were influences who we are today, and her four books in the Reincarnation series apply that concept across the centuries. The Book of Lost Fragrances deals with the power of a love that endures from the time of Cleopatra. Fragrance is employed in the book as a memory tool to not only attempt to bring reincarnated lovers back together, but also as an aid in returning to a difficult time when one can undo mistakes and therefore ease the pain of the future. If it’s true that a memory tool exists and has that kind of influence, it would change the world as we know it. In The Book of Lost Fragrances, governments and religious institutions race to find this tool before it falls into the wrong hands.

 

The brother and sister have an interesting dynamic and as we learn the business and history of perfumery from the inside out, their desperate interaction rings true on every level, even after a murder is committed and Robbie is suspected. A former lover, who knows them both, adds tension and intrigue to the mystery. Dr. Malachi Samuels, a scientist working to prove that reincarnation exists, is a recurring character in the four books, continuing his search for ancient memory tools, sometimes involving others in dangerous schemes to achieve his own goals, always under scrutiny by the FBI.

 

Supporting characters are well written in this enthralling tale that addresses issues in Tibet and China, the Dali Lama, the French Revolution, lost and found again lovers, Cleopatra’s priceless perfume formula book, and more. Students of archeology will be drawn to the importance of ancient Egyptian pottery shards in the storyline.

 

Rose is a master at writing sensual descriptions and I found myself emotionally enveloped in the aromas of the flowers and herbs described. I was transported to memories of my own experiences with these same blossoms. The peonies in my own yard beckoned me, even though blooming season had long been over. 

 

Rose always does impeccable research in order to build the historical foundation for the ‘Reincarnation’ books. Each title spans several centuries and countries and she has openly admitted loving this part of her process. While working on The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose sent the manuscript to a perfumer in France, who designed a fragrance (Ames Soeurs) inspired by the book. She subsequently showed the fragrance in NYC when the book was being launched. 

 

The Book of Lost Fragrances was on the ‘Indie Next List’ in 2012 and was named one of the Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers for 2012 by Publishers Weekly. While it is part of a series, it is a solid stand-alone title. Just don’t let it be.

 

For more information about M.J.Rose, the Reincarnation series, her other books, as well as her AuthorBuzz work, please visit www.mjrose.com

To read my review of "The Reincarnationist," go here.

 

 

 

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“The English Girl” by Daniel Silva

 

Book Cover - The English Girl

 

Gabriel Allon is a master art restorer whose finally tranquil life is endangered by politics and demands of former bosses. Once a ruthless Israeli operative at the top of his game, he’d like to be left alone. He’s been shot at, tortured, threatened, held behind enemy lines, his family killed, and yet the ‘powers-that-be’ ask for more in the name of patriotism and helping old friends.

 

This time, a young English woman disappears in Corsica while on vacation. Why is Allon asked to help a foreign government find their missing citizen? She was having an affair with the British prime minister. The P.M. is embroiled in a political crisis at home and she was a rising star in British politics. Any scandal that breaks would be catastrophic. Any ‘handling’ of the situation by English operatives would be looked upon as misuse of MI5 funds. Of course, it would also be wildly inappropriate to use Israeli funds, so the operation would be privately financed.

 

Ever cautious, ever suspicious, Allon investigates the English girl’s disappearance and the subsequent ransom (meet the demands in seven days or she dies) before he agrees to take on the case. Allon works with former as well as current enemies to gain access to the people who are in a position to find out what happened and why. The pressing questions: Who were the players? What else was going on?

 

“The English Girl” is more than a spy story with international intrigue in the background. It is an absorbing character study of a man driven by patriotism once upon a time, but now haunted by his past. His life was ripped apart and the anger at what was taken from him still lingers, along with an inner sadness created by the knowledge that his profession is the source of his pain. The demons at first prod him to turn down the assignment, but then the assignment itself becomes a way to quiet his torment.

 

Silva studies politics on an international scale – the domino effect of decisions made by our country’s leaders, both personally and publicly, that shape global policies. Can the mere fear of public exposure of private matters really topple governments?

 

One of the interesting subplots in “The English Girl” is the interplay between two operatives who must work together out of necessity. During the time Allon and his counterpart, Keller, are together, they spar about the difference between a hired assassin and a Mossad agent – one does it for the paycheck, the other for love of country. Allon feels morally superior even though they both do the same things – interrogate, kill, rescue, scheme, save/steal secrets. But in this interplay, along with Allon’s relationships with those in his inner circle, a spy is shown to be multi-dimensional, not just an assassin, but having a home, a wife, and educated interests.

 

Silva has a compelling writing style, employing dialogue that works brilliantly. Several times the main characters made remarks that were repeated soon after for mild comic relief or for dramatic emphasis. He has captured the natural flow of interaction to such a degree that I always felt a part of the story, never sidelined or merely watching the action unfold.

 

“The English Girl” is a gripping page-turner, with plenty of twists and turns to satisfy. How will this operation affect Allon as aspects of the operation remind him of his dead wife and child? How will this operation change his future?  What deals does he have to make along the way?

 

Silva’s thirteenth novel in the Gabriel Allon series debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The next one, “The Heist,” was released in the summer of 2014.

 

Please visit www.danielsilvabooks.com for more information about Silva and his books.

 

 

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“Buried by the Roan” by Mark Stevens

 

Book Cover - Buried by the Roan

Big game hunting guide, Allison Coil, loves the mountains of Colorado and their utter serenity, “the sensation of nature, of horse, of lakes and woods.” It is her “addiction.” Her music is the mournful howl of a coyote. Her job allows her the freedom to enjoy it all.

 

The problem is, the Roan Plateau, west of her hunting campsite in the Flat Tops, is the target of natural gas developers, of a corporation that plans to start ‘fracking’ to access the gas. If ranch owners sell their mineral rights, they stand to make millions. But, in the process, the woods might disappear and so would the game.

 

The death of one of her clients, Josh Keating, appears to be an accident, but Coil isn’t buying it. Keating was too experienced to have been as stupid as the so-called drunken ‘accident’ made him appear. And, then there is the fact that now that he’s dead, Keating’s wife gets to make decisions about their gas-rich land that he might not have approved.

 

Add in dead buffalo on Keating’s property, pristine mountain water being poisoned, scheming relatives, businessmen determined to get their piece of the financial windfall, militant environmentalists, a media frenzy as federal officials make decisions, a devolutionist who reports his back-to-nature experience on YouTube, and we have a multi-layered story in “Buried by the Roan” that was a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Awards and the Colorado Authors League.

 

Author Mark Stevens successfully presents both sides of the environmental fight, allowing his characters to become as passionate as the real-life residents of the high country. Big money aside, several locals care deeply about retaining the look and feel of the mountains, even bashing the impact of the ski resorts on their beloved state. 

 

One faction in “Buried by the Roan” is in favor of slow-food, produce and other goods grown and sold locally so as to have less impact on the ecosystem. Herbalist Trudy Heath, Allison Coil’s close friend, sells homemade pesto, cooks mouth-watering organic food, and is reluctantly drawn into the politics of the slow-food cause. That involvement and Allison’s murder investigation cross paths in a believable way as Allison’s life is threatened.

 

Stevens weaves two romances into the novel, for Allison as well as Trudy, both realistic, but quite different. Allison’s daydreaming about younger Colin is amusing and we root for the relationship to blossom into something more.

 

Robin Cook, a bestselling author of 31 thrillers, famously said that mysteries should be about something beyond the puzzle in the mystery itself. “Buried by the Roan” has plenty of hot topics to occupy book club (and other) discussions without hitting us over the head with the very real issues at its core.

 

Please visit www.writermarkstevens.com for more info about the Allison Coil series. Happily, "Trapline" was published in 2014.  See the review here.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Misery Bay” by Steve Hamilton

 

Book Cover - Misery Bay

 

The best mysteries are great puzzles, giving us bits and pieces of the storyline, one by one until the killer is revealed and the reason for the crime becomes apparent. The lead character is compelling, likable even though flawed, and when faced with a challenge? Never walks away until the case is closed, despite the heavy toll that case may exact upon his/her soul.

 

Alex McKnight, a former cop from Detroit, sometime Private Investigator, now spends his time working on one of his rental cabins. He avoids any real contact with the world except for meals and imported Canadian beer at the Glasgow Inn. He doesn’t even own a TV. When a cold wind blows in through the pub’s doorway and a former hated colleague, Chief Roy Maven, walks in, McKnight is pretty sure nothing good will come of the visit. And it doesn’t.

 

The Chief has a friend, Raz, whose son has just committed suicide. The man wants to know why. An impossible question to answer, but McKnight is being asked to spend some time looking into it in order to ease the father’s mind. McKnight connects with Raz because of a shared need to do something about a death that could not be explained, and because the case is a reminder of his own past that troubles him.

 

McKnight conducts some light inquiries, chats with the son’s former classmates, and then heads back to report his findings, however slim. Except that Raz is dead. And his death is no suicide.

 

McKnight and Chief Maven have never liked each other and that dynamic is perfect as they work together to convince the FBI investigators that there is a killer on the loose and that the case is not closed. They bully each other as they search for answers, defying the FBI orders in the process, but more effective in their tenacity. The body count rises and connections and motivation must be found before the next victim dies. Even they are at risk.

 

No plot spoiler here, but clues to the ’why’ begin early on. There’s nothing to tie them to the story, so we wonder why they’re there, dangling, causing us to twitch with curiosity. Patience, dear reader.  😉

 

The Michigan Upper Peninsula winter is a character in the book; as the backdrop in the first paragraph, and a recurring theme. The landscape and the weather each play a part in the initial case and the dramatic climax to “Misery Bay.” I’ve never been so cold while reading a book. I reached for sweaters as the six or eight inches of snow fell every day and the wind blew and ice formed everywhere. When Hamilton wrote, “By the time the end of March rolls around, everyone’s just a few degrees past crazy,” I believed him.

 

There is a haunting scene when McKnight sees the spot where the first body was found overlooking Lake Superior. What a bleak, cold, lonely way to die, hanging by a rope from a tree next to a frozen lake, alone. But, there are many haunting scenes. The “I am bleeding” passage is riveting, harrowing, masterful.

 

This is a dark book, touching upon past crimes against McKnight and those close to him, old injuries, old demons. There is little that is cheery about it, few soft edges. Even the ‘thought about’ romance is sad, tinged with regret and what McKnight isn’t ready for right now. Maybe later, but not now. The man is suffering, in a dark place, and still can’t go into the cabin where a tragedy occurred in his own life months before. His friends try to help, but he can’t quite turn the page on his sadness, can’t quite release his guilt. Yet, the man has a sense of humor that relieves the tension periodically, and a warm, caring, dedicated strength that generates loyalty and respect from even those who dislike his rule bending actions.

 

“Misery Bay” is the eighth in the Alex McKnight series and the first I have read. It can be read as a stand-alone, but the references to past cases are so intriguing that it won’t be my last.

 

Bestselling author Steve Hamilton is a two-time recipient of the Edgar award as well as several other very cool crime writing awards. Please visit www.authorstevehamilton.com to learn about the rest of his novels.

 

 

 

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“Eyes Wide Open” by Andrew Gross

 

Book Cover - Eyes Wide Open copy

 

A terrible tragedy has occurred. Jay Erlich’s nephew, Evan, has committed suicide by jumping off a cliff and the family is devastated. Jay feels guilty for not trying harder to stay in touch, even though he had assisted his half-brother, Charlie, and sister-in-law financially whenever possible. The family dynamics had been on shaky ground at best, with a dysfunctional father and multiple step-mothers. Not a warm and fuzzy upbringing for Charlie by any definition. Jay had become a successful surgeon, but Charlie had fallen off the rails, finally on welfare after years of substance abuse. But now, perhaps Jay could make up for some of that gap and at least help discover why the judicial/health/mental care systems had failed Evan so miserably.

 

Wait. This is an Andrew Gross thriller. There are always layers to the story. And what chilling layers they are…

 

Charlie feels the system abandoned his son, discharging Evan from a psychiatric facility after only four days instead of three weeks as promised, then placing him in a half-way house with no security. That because Evan was poor, he was shuffled around, neglected and mishandled. That the system killed his son. Then Charlie discovers a piece of evidence that brings his once colorful past crashing into the present, a past that includes unspeakable evil.

 

As Jay’s investigation continues and even intrudes on his professional life, devastating family secrets are revealed, cover-ups are exposed, relationships are strained to the breaking point, a villain is revealed who is the devil personified, Jay himself is in danger, and Evan’s suicide appears to be something quite different. The characters in “Eyes Wide Shut” are multi-dimensional and completely realistic. I felt as if I was listening in on intense conversations, inside the heads of people living the page-turning story.

 

One question raised in this book is the attitude by the police toward the less fortunate. Are all big city police so overburdened that they overlook clues, want to close cases before they should? In reality, police departments are overburdened, and if statistics are any indication, the deaths of homeless and mentally ill persons are left unsolved or become cold cases just because there are generally no reliable witnesses to their deaths and/or no family members around to ask about them. According to FBI statistics from 2011, thousands of murder/suicide cases go unsolved each year. To see my post at www.kerriansnotebook.com, “What is a Cold Case?” click here.

 

Throughout this well written psychological thriller, Gross touches upon several societal issues. Is a poor person less entitled to decent health care, therefore bound to suffer from less attentive meds management? Does nobody care how and where the poor pass away? One only has to visit a less than adequate Medicaid facility to see that there is a great deal of truth underpinning the fictional struggles Jay’s family endures. And, in soul-bearing fashion, Gross bases Evan’s struggles on those of his own nephew Alex, who passed away in 2009. So real on the page, so painful.

 

A few words of caution: Be careful who you hang out with today…your present associations might hunt you down in the future; no matter how hard you try to hide. Lock your doors when you read this one.

 

Before Andrew Gross’ tremendous success as a stand-alone author, he co-authored five bestselling titles with James Patterson. “Eyes Wide Open” (2011) was followed by “15 Seconds” (2012) and the most recent, “No Way Back.”

 

Please visit www.andrewgrossbooks.com for more information about the personal experiences that have fueled his books.

 

 

 

 

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“At Risk” by Stella Rimington

 

Book Cover - At Risk3

Liz Carlyle is the head of the counter terrorism unit for MI5 in “At Risk” and she is having a bad day. It’s possible that an ‘invisible’ is on his way to England by way of Pakistan. An invisible is a terrorist that is an ethnic native of the target country, so is able to move around without suspicious eyes hindering the objective. Add to that, Liz has a boyfriend who wants to leave his wife for her and is pressuring Liz for a commitment. Bad idea, since any court proceedings and resulting publicity would expose Liz’ real identity. Her career would be over. At the very least she’d be viewed at MI5 as a female home wrecker, rather than the highly qualified agent that she is. Pass the aspirin.

 

Carlyle receives intelligence from a questionable source and tries to hand it off to a police unit more suitable for investigating the information, without success. When a fisherman is killed under suspicious circumstances near where the ‘invisible’ may be arriving, and it somehow ties into the dubious intel, Carlyle must look into it herself. She travels to the coast of England to verify the facts and what she uncovers is alarming. The murder may have accidentally exposed both a smuggling ring and Islamic terrorism on the English coast.

 

Written shortly after September 11th, the “At Risk” plot thread involving the terrorists is disturbing, not because it is especially violent, but instead because it is so matter-of-fact. A man calmly announces that he killed someone the night before and the woman who is cutting his hair quietly accepts this. ‘If he had to do it, it must have been necessary,’ she thinks. They could just as easily have been chatting about getting the car repaired. The men and women in “At Risk” who have been thoroughly trained to kill without a second thought are so outwardly normal. They could be the neighbors down the street. Invisible.

 

MI5 recognizes that there must be a threat to national security, but cannot uncover what it is. A race against time, details of tradecraft, close calls, defections, shaky intelligence analyses, bombs, double-crosses, flat-out lying to fellow agencies – all combine to create the perfect mix of deception and patriotism that maintains the suspense from beginning to end.

 

The damp chill of the gray English countryside served as a foreboding backdrop to the various subplots in the book. Carlyle complains about the cold, deals with raw afternoons in unheated, coffee-free spots, waiting for suspects to arrive or interviews to begin. Having been to Great Britain several times in the Fall, I’ve often wondered how the Brits ever warm up and “At Risk” renews that question.

 

This debut novel written by the former head of MI5, is riveting. Rimington was the first female Director General of MI5 and the first person to be announced publicly as its head. Carlyle does a juggling act with her work and personal lives, as Rimington must have done in her real life. She brings that complex background to this authentic depiction of the changing world of espionage in an excellent post 9-11 novel.

 

Please visit www.stellarimington.com to read about Rimington’s fascinating career and the books she has written since her dramatic debut into the world of fiction.

 

 

 

 

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“The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro

 

Book Cover - The Art Forger

Talented artist Claire Roth, makes her living painting copies of old Masters and Impressionists for Reproductions.com. This is a completely legitimate occupation, requiring only that the buyer be made aware that the painting is a reproduction. Starving artists need to pay the rent, so if people want the copies hanging in their homes, Roth is happy to oblige and talented enough to recreate the best.

 

While in grad school, Roth worked with a well-known Boston area artist who took credit for a large piece she painted under his direction. When the canvas was chosen to hang in MoMA, Roth was horrified at his duplicity, publically claimed the work as her own, but was disgraced when she could not prove it. For the next three years, she was a pariah in the art world, barely keeping her head above water, needing the Repro jobs to survive.

 

A Boston gallery owner, Aiden Markel, knows of Roth’s talent despite the scandal, is curious about her status, and sees a Degas copy she is working on. He asks Roth to copy one of the paintings from the Gardner Museum theft. Illegality is discussed, but “there is illegal and there is illegal,” and Markel promises that the Gardner painting will finally be returned to the Museum. It’s all for the greater good.

 

Markel bribes Roth, not with money (although there will be $50K when she completes the painting) but with the chance to work with a genuine Degas, and most importantly, with fame via her own one-woman show that would legitimize her work to the world.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Markel and Roth discuss the feasibility of getting caught with the Degas in their possession, but the very phrase “What’s a promise among thieves?” hints at the heist/con feeling of the book, the danger inherent in every choice that is made to keep the original painting secret.

 

Roth’s talent and training are both her gift and her undoing in this suspenseful mystery. The authentication process of the pieces in “The Art Forger,” both condemns and exonerates her as the story unfolds. We are privy to a fascinating look at how the rarefied art world works and when we read, “People see what they expect to see. Including the experts,” we believe it.

 

Shapiro has the inspired sense to ground the lofty merits of the scheme with the most human of thoughts in Roth’s internal struggle – this down-on-her-luck artist needs a new cellphone and a real bed and wants the red couch that is 70% off down the street. It’s the dream of a lifetime, but after all, Roth eats mac and cheese to subsist, despite the promise of more.

 

Art and museum lovers will revel in the marvelous descriptions of the methods used to create an oil painting, whether Modern or Impressionist or forgery. The techniques, the brush strokes, the materiel, the entire process – all accurately depicted as a result of Shapiro’s extensive research. We feel Roth’s excitement, her aching back, her sweat, while she paints and is swept into the passion of her creations.

 

The real-life theft of the paintings at the Isabelle Gardner museum in Boston (still unresolved over twenty years after the fact) is the underpinning for “The Art Forger” plot. Shapiro has embellished the actual robbery with extra players and weaves a terrific story that kept me spellbound throughout. The FBI, paintings that are not as authentic as they appear, the courts, jail-time, back-stabbing colleagues, a love interest, the remaining descendant of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Museum itself – are masterfully intertwined in this superb New York Times best-seller.

 

One theory posited in the book for the reason that the paintings are still missing is that some were used like ‘blood paintings’ (a la ‘blood diamonds’) as barter for guns or drugs or a hedge against some other deal. In real life, it is thought that some of the paintings may be lost or damaged, gone forever. In any case, despite the statue of limitations having run out, and a $5 million reward, nothing has been found.

 

Click on the link to read about the actual heist:

 

http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/march/reward-offered-for-return-of-stolen-gardner-museum-artwork

 

 

Please visit www.bashapirobooks.com for more information about Barbara Shapiro and her work.

 

 

 

 

 

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