Suspense

“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.

 

 

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Memory Collector” by Meg Gardiner

 

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Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist who works as a consultant with the San Francisco Police Department to determine the ‘why’ of a crime. In “The Memory Collector,” Beckett is called in to do a psych evaluation when a plane from London lands and one of the passengers will not get off. The crew thinks that Ian Kanan is full-on crazy because one minute he calmly wonders where he is and the next, is completely belligerent.

 

Beckett realizes that Kanan has anterograde amnesia (an actual condition), which keeps him from making new memories. He recalls everything that happened before he got on the plane, knows his trip started in Africa, and believes he might have been poisoned. But, every five minutes his brain resets, he loses his present, and has to be reminded of recent events.

 

Beckett needs to figure it all out before something disastrous happens. Tests reveal that Kanan has something wrong with his brain, but did a virus cause it? Other people who came in contact with him on the plane are behaving erratically as well, but Kanan has an agenda of his own and no interest in helping the police.

 

Corporate greed, a missing family, bio-warfare, and people who are not what they seem, complicate a pulse-pounding race against time. The bad guys become all the more sinister as they coldly discard inconvenient people along the way. There is a lot at stake for all parties concerned, and good or bad, everyone is working hard to reach their goals.

 

Fans of bestselling Meg Gardiner’s strong female leads will enjoy the fully realized Jo Beckett: smart, recently widowed, immersed in her work and good at what she does, a dedicated rock climber, in the beginning stages of moving on as she connects more deeply with Gabe (a search and rescue friend who had informed her of her husband’s death in an earlier book).

 

The supporting cast in “The Memory Collector” – a sister, a hunky almost boyfriend, a truly wacky neighbor, and a testy police investigator – is a group of complex characters that play nicely against Beckett. All can be counted on when she needs their help.

 

I discovered Meg Gardiner during a crime writers’ webinar, where she introduced herself by saying, “I lie for a living.” She is thoroughly charming, funny, and a former California lawyer, now living in London and Texas. The first Gardiner book I picked up was “China Lake,” a chilling tale with Evan Delaney as another convincing  protagonist with her own series, but with a military background. “China Lake” was an Edgar Award winner.

 

Ms. Gardiner can lie to me anytime she likes.

 

Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "Ransom River" here.

Visit www.meggardiner.com for information about Ms. Gardiner, her various series and stand-alone novels.

 

 

“Up Country” by Nelson DeMille

 

Book Cover - Up Country

In these days between the U.S. celebrations of Memorial Day and July 4th, it seemed appropriate to review “Up Country,” a detective/thriller that places war firmly at its center. DeMille considers the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam and the sacrifices made by all concerned. War never seems quite real unless someone close to us is affected, but lest we forget, the body bags are always bringing home someone’s brother or father or sister or mother.

 

Paul Brenner is close to retiring from military service, but must return to Viet Nam one last time to solve a crime committed during the war almost thirty years before. Was an American soldier killed in Viet Nam back then, actually murdered?

 

In Brenner’s search for the answers to what seems to be a colossal cover up in “Up Country,” we travel through Viet Nam, feel the anguish of a country still reeling from the destruction of the war, meet descendants of the original soldiers who had nothing to do with the regimes of the time, but are still suffering. And, the very men who lost the war now rule it.

 

Brennan interacts with ex-pat Susan Weber to supposedly smooth his in-country travel arrangements, and at times (even during their on-the-road affair) we wonder whether she is a friend to Brennan or an agent of the enemy. Corruption and betrayal at every turn, a harrowing unauthorized trip into North Viet Nam, many tense dealings with a suspicious North Vietnamese Colonel, political as well as military agendas, seeing Viet Nam as a country, not as a war – all blends together in a sobering clash of values and hindsight.

 

DeMille’s ‘Alpha Male’ lead characters are always fully developed, with strong language and active inner dialogue. In “Up Country,” we experience Brennan’s thought process as he assesses his limited options for solving the crime. We are persuaded that he should continue his dangerous mission even as he observes the behavior of the former/present enemy that still lives in the past and can’t let go of the hatred of the U.S.

 

“Up Country,” published in 2002, was based on DeMille’s own experiences upon his return to Viet Nam in 1997, almost three decades after his own military service. DeMille is a master storyteller, as his legions of fans will agree, but in this book, he brings a great deal of himself to the page and in doing that, creates a completely absorbing, gritty tale. One wonders how much is in reality, fiction. DeMille’s other books are great reads, but “Up Country” just may be his best.

 

Visit www.nelsondemille.com for more information about the popular John Corey series and the many other bestselling DeMille thrillers.

 

 

 

 

“The Alibi Man” by Tami Hoag

Book Cover - The Alibi Man

 

Bestselling suspense author, Tami Hoag, began her professional writing career in the romance genre, but stretched that framework to include everything from comedy to suspense. Her strong female characters were savvy, contemporary types and readers connected.

 

As Hoag’s work shifted into the thriller/suspense realm, it reflected the rising audience interest in forensics and began to include more of the graphic details of the crime scenes and the violence visited upon the victims. Today, her bad guys are darker, more depraved, and her heroines more likely to engage in the kind of retribution that would raise the eyebrows of the faint-hearted. 

 

“The Alibi Man” returns former undercover cop, Elena Estes, to the hard, fast world of Palm Beach society and the nasty secrets lying beneath the surface. When a fellow horse groom and marginal friend is found murdered, Elena is drawn back into the life she’d like to forget and must deal with buried emotions she thought she had hidden from the world. Elena is grippingly portrayed as a deeply tortured soul, and we feel her pain as her personal life is laid before us chapter, by aching chapter.

 

The action in “The Alibi Man” is fast-paced, filling the pages with cold-blooded crime figures snipping off body parts, drug/sex parties, handsome polo stars, and a cop boyfriend.

 

The plot weaving the colorful characters together is less successful, only because I don’t quite buy that the rich and powerful would be dumb enough to get themselves into such stupid personal messes. One at a time, yes, but collectively? However, the name of the book may tell it all. Supreme arrogance probably dictates the need for an Alibi Man. Great read for Hoag fans, with graphic language and adult situations.

 

Written in 2007, “The Alibi Man” was followed by “Deeper than the Dead,” “Secrets of the Grave,” and “Down the Darkest Road.” “The 9th Girl” will be published in June, 2013. Hoag has written over thirty books, with fifteen consecutive titles hitting the NYT bestseller lists. “Night Sins” was made into a memorably chilling TV movie in the late 90s and is still shown in re-runs.

 

For more information about Tami Hoag and her books, visit www.tamihoag.com

 

 

“Proof” by Jordyn Redwood

Book Cover - Proof Lilly Reeves is an ER doctor who chooses to live alone. She stays in shape, attends martial arts classes, owns a gun, and has three locks on her front door. She is a caring doctor, good at her job, and well liked by her colleagues. She has a close friend and a nice guy who wants to date her. None of that prevents her from being attacked and raped in her own home. And she may be the fifth victim of a serial rapist.  

She accidently discovers the identity of her attacker at work, but when she makes her accusations, DNA testing proves her wrong and she in turn, is accused of being unstable. Even her friends begin to doubt her sanity. At first, Reeves thinks she has it all together, that she will be fine as soon as the rapist is behind bars. But, that is far from reality.  

There are multiple twists and turns as the rapist proves to be more cold-blooded than anybody could have imagined. Reeves speeds ever downward, trapped in her despair and acts of self-destruction. Her friends, along with the policeman assigned to the case, do their best to help, but Reeves doesn’t want to be helped, especially when the worst news possible is revealed. This is a faith-based book, with a Christian perspective as how best to handle the many issues that arise, but to Redwood’s credit, the true-to-life discussions have non-believer Dr. Reeves standing firm, several times.  

“Proof” is a debut novel, but compares favorably with more established medical thrillers. ER procedures as well as difficult deliveries are meticulously written, yet easy to read. The medical oddity that identifies the killer is well-researched and thoroughly fascinating. The lead characters are fully developed and realistically supportive. “Proof” does not shy away from the subject, but it does not actually contain a violent re-enactment of the rape. Rather, it is an absorbing study in how a woman and the people who surround her, deal with the challenging aftermath of that rape. This is an honest, Christian look at a serious problem.  

The Twitterverse is a terrific place to discover new authors. I ‘met’ Jordyn Redwood because of her blog, “Redwood’s Medical Edge.” Jordyn is an ER nurse who created the blog in order to help authors write correctly about medical details in their work. On Fridays, many writers/reviewers on Twitter share a heads-up about good research sources; Redwood’s column is an excellent place to find great information about life in an ER. In addition to doing her own columns, she has guest bloggers who address certain areas of interest related to the medical field, as varied as Civil War medicine and neonatal emergencies. Great blog.  

“Proof” is the first in the ‘Bloodline Trilogy,’ and was nominated for the Carol Award. The second book in the series, “Poison,” was released on February 1, 2013.  

For more information, please visit www.jordynredwood.com    

 

 

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