Thriller

“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.

 

 

“Harvest” by Tess Gerritsen

 

Book Cover - Harvest

A young, talented surgical resident, Dr. Abby Di Matteo, is recruited to become a future member of Bayside Hospital’s organ transplant team. Seems perfect – a dream job where she will be doing something she loves while working with her fiancée.

 

The catch? She and Chief Resident, Dr. Vivian Chao, take a heart listed in a donor registry for their dying teenage patient, but somehow slated at the last moment for a wealthy woman who is number three on the donor list. The husband of the rich patient is incensed and tries to ruin Dr. Matteo’s career. Terrible murder accusations are made, but no one believes in her innocence except Chao who did the organ harvest with her. Matteo wonders whom she can trust, especially when the origin of the transplant heart becomes suspect. 

 

This action packed novel is full of surgical detail along with personal, legal and professional drama. A parallel story of potential transplant donors (involving the Russian Mafia) is tragic and horrifying at the same time.

 

Organ harvesting is certainly not new, but in 1996, when this book was first published, the medical community in the U.S. was undergoing yet another review of the process of matching donors with recipients. It had been legal to donate organs for over thirty years, but as transplants of all types became routinely successful, doctors of the gravely ill sought more donors. It became important to establish a national clearinghouse for the available organs, ranking potential recipients by need for the organ, not by income level. This ranking eliminated questions of unfairness, but wasn’t foolproof. Enter a new phase for the medical thriller.

 

A bit of literary trivia: “Harvest” mentions a paralyzing drug, succinylcholine. This drug is widely used by anesthesiologists to induce muscle relaxation during surgery, but in the wrong dose can cause wide-awake paralysis. If you enjoy medical thrillers, you might remember the same drug used in Cook’s “Foreign Body” (published in 2008) with very different results.

 

Please visit www.tessgerritsen.com for more information about Gerritsen’s many bestsellers, including the Rizzoli & Isles series upon which the TV show is based.

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

“Running from the Devil” by Jamie Freveletti

 

Book Cover - Running from the Devil

 

“Running from the Devil” was Jamie Freveletti’s bestselling debut novel, the first of four (so far) with Emma Caldridge as the terrific lead character.

 

Emma Caldridge, American biochemist and endurance marathon runner, falls asleep on a plane to Bogota, but is rudely awakened when the pilot announces that they should assume crash positions. The plane has been hijacked and it has been ordered toward an airstrip that is too small for the commercial airliner. When the plane crashes, it breaks apart and Emma’s seat lands outside the airliner, away from the others.

 

The survivors are herded together by a poorly trained, badly funded, dangerous group of guerilla fighters, more interested in a quick cash return than in protecting the passengers. The infighting is barely controlled by the leaders, and may be even more hazardous to the hostages than their forced march through the mine-filled jungle.

 

Emma helps a young prisoner escape while attempting to grab some apples and she is helped in turn by an injured passenger, a secret government agent named Cameron Sumner, who distracts the thugs while she runs into the tree line to safety. After the plane is blown up, Emma is forced to follow the survivors through the jungle, rather than waiting to be rescued.

 

What follows is a pulse-pounding page-turner with near misses, communication mishaps, captors turning on each other, land mines exploding and passengers being murdered because they are too weak to keep up. Complicating the plot? Neither Sumner nor Caldridge has revealed the truth about their motives for being in the country. The on again/off again rescue operations by the government agencies as well as the international politics of drugs and oil add to the tension.

 

Caldridge and Sumner are well-drawn, sympathetic, intelligent characters, each up to the physically challenging situations, but forced to rely on each other to make it out alive. Freveletti has woven the positive and negative uses of plants into the storyline, giving us a how-to survival manual along the way – just in case we ever get stuck in the jungle with maniacs.

 

One of the scenes that sticks with me is the early one with Emma crab walking across open ground near the downed jet, then scrambling over truck beds in order to steal apples and a phone. I rooted for Emma through her harrowing, high-risk attempt to grab some kind of food for the trek ahead. The tension was palpable and the reader is made aware just how desperate Emma’s journey will be.

 

A top-flight thriller, a strong female character. While I can’t possibly run 100 miles in the heat, or do some of the other interesting bits I can’t reveal (plot spoiler info), all of what Emma Caldridge pulled off is possible. Whether anyone would ever be asked to do them in the time span that EC had? Well, that’s half the fun of reading a thriller. Pretending that they would.

 

The most recent Emma Caldridge book, “Dead Asleep,” has reached #1 on the Kindle list.

 

In addition to her Emma Caldridge series, Ms. Freveletti has written a novel for the Robert Ludlum books, “Janus Reprisal.”

 

For more information about Ms. Freveletti and her work, please visit www.jamiefreveletti.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Split Second” by David Baldacci

 

Book Cover - Split Second

King and Maxwell are two Secret Service agents who were disgraced after their assignments to protect unpopular presidential candidates went horribly wrong. The man King guarded was killed while standing a few feet away. Maxwell’s charge was kidnapped from the next room. All it took was a split second for these two dedicated agents’ lives to change.

 

Michelle Maxwell is a former Olympian, from a family of law enforcement officers and before the kidnapping, on a fast track to promotion within the Service. Now, she might be slated for a permanent vacation. King, having left the Service after the assassination, is practicing law in a small Virginia town halfway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. That is, until one of King’s employees is found murdered in his office and then the body of a former client is found hanging on the back of his bathroom door. King’s law associates can’t dump him fast enough.

 

The two agents never served together and the professional gaffes occurred eight years apart, but Maxwell senses a connection and obsessively researches her suspicions. Notwithstanding an initial reluctance to dredge up the past, King realizes that people associated with him are dying, his peaceful lifestyle is rapidly disappearing, and Maxwell seems to be an ally when he needs one. They join forces to investigate/unravel the cases.

 

Old hatreds erupt anew, former loves pop up, and as the body count mounts, an almost Shakespearean feeling permeates the storyline.

 

Baldacci’s “Split Second” entertains the reader with an elaborate plot, well-drawn likeable characters, an insane villain, explosive revelations, twists, and surprises that kept me turning the pages all day to find out what could possibly happen next. Betrayals and lies and misdirection, that's what.

 

The popular new TNT TV series, King & Maxwell, is based on the bestselling five-book series. “Split Second” is the first book in that series.

 

In addition to being a prolific writer with 26 published books since 1996 in 45 languages in 80 countries, Baldacci is involved with several charities. The Wish You Well Foundation® was established by David and his wife, Michelle, and supports family and adult literacy in the United States. The Foundation has partnered with Feeding America to launch Feeding Body & Mind, which has collected almost one million new and used books and distributed them through area food banks.

 

For more information about Baldacci, his books, movies based on his books, and his charitable work, please visit www.DavidBaldacci.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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 Memory Collector” by Meg Gardiner

 

memorycollectorbook

 

 

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.

 

 

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