Thriller

“Even Money” by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

 

Book Cover - Even Money

“Even Money,” by former champion steeple chase jockey Dick Francis and his son, Felix, takes us behind the scenes of a smalltime legal bookie’s business in England. Ned Talbot is working his spot at Royal Ascot when an older man approaches and wants to chat about Ned’s grandfather, the man who started the family operation many years before. Hardly the time for a conversation, Ned puts him off until later in the day, annoyed by the intrusion.

 

Three hours later, after revealing that he is the father Ned thought died long ago in a car crash, the man is mortally stabbed in front of Ned in the track parking lot, by an attacker who keeps asking where his money is. With the “Be very careful of everyone” warning on the father’s dying breath, “Easy Money” is off and running.

 

Why was he stabbed? What money? Was the man really his father? If so, where had he been for the last thirty-six years? Anger and frustration and grief hit full force as Ned tries to sort it all out. When a stranger breaks into Ned’s house looking for his father’s property, Ned knows that whatever else, his father was up to no good before he died.

 

The police discover that his father had traveled from Australia under a different name, and of course, don’t quite believe Ned’s version of the mugging. Ned must deal with the death, the police and the questions he has, all while working to have his wife released from a mental institution. Pressured at every turn, Ned must even fend off thugs from a betting syndicate that is trying to force out smalltime bookies.

 

What unfolds is a multi-layered mystery set against the background of horseracing, with an emphasis on the betting. The Francis team has the task of explaining how betting works for both the punter (the person who places the bet) and the bookie. They describe the process simply enough so that the average reader can follow that particular storyline. A bookmaker’s odds chart is provided at the beginning of the book, but while interesting, it is not essential to understanding the action. A note: the British system of betting is a bit less controlled than the U.S. system, with more leeway for placing and paying out bets.

 

The racing world in “Even Money” has arrived at modern day, with internet betting, computerized betting stubs, RFID chips for horse identification, horse passports, wi-fi and cell phones.

 

We learn of the latest schemes to switch good and bad horses just before a race – long gone are the days when a horse could be painted and passed off as a different mount. International racing comes into play as some of his father’s secrets are revealed.

 

Ned Talbot seems tough enough and clever enough to cope with all the complications that pop up as he solves the several puzzles and deals with horrible truths about his father. Ned is not a super hero James Bond type, though; his handling of the many twists and turns seem possible even for the common guy. And that’s why we root for him. We can see ourselves in the same tight spots and know with a little luck and quick thinking that we could be masters of our own fates, too.

 

He has able assistants at the track and I especially liked Luca and Duggie. They seem perfectly suited for the technical know-how and showmanship needed in the book. The bad guys are interesting and vary according to their level of motivation in the story and what they want from Ned. The payback scheme at the end is terrific and worthy of a heist movie.

 

Among other awards, Dick Francis was a three-time winner of the Edgar Award, bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America. He wrote forty-three bestselling novels and was widely considered to be one of the best thriller writers in the world.

 

“Even Money” was published in 2009 and was the third of four novels co-written by Dick and Felix Francis. Dick Francis passed away in early 2010 and the fourth book was published later that year. For more information about Dick Francis and his career, as well as Felix and how he is carrying on the family business, please visit www.felixfrancis.com

 

 

 

 

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“Ghost Country” by Patrick Lee

 

Book Cover - Ghost Country

Patrick Lee’s “Ghost Country” is the second in a three-book series. I read solid comments about the first book, “The Breach,” and wanted to see if “Ghost Country” lived up to the reported high standards set by the debut sci-fi/adventure/thriller. Wow! That would be a resounding, “YES!”

 

ENTITY: Technologically advanced gadgets (entities) come through the super secret BREACH.

BREACH: A type of wormhole in Wyoming, created when an ion collider exploded.

 

As “Ghost Country” opens, Paige Campbell, a high-level employee of a government agency called TANGENT, has just left a briefing with the President about an entity so powerful that it can change our view of both the present and the future. This entity (in the shape of a rolling pin sized cylinder) has the ability to transport the holder through time – but only 73 years into the future and back again.

 

Paige’s convoy is attacked while the White House is still in view. In a minute by pulse-pounding minute description of the perfectly executed attack, including details of a PDA-holding guy checking for photos of the ‘keepers’ as a shooter follows behind to dispatch the rest, Lee sets the pace and feel of the book.

 

Paige is able to send a message to her tech-savvy contact, Bethany Stewart, right before she is abducted. Bethany enlists the help of Travis Chase, a man who has been in hiding for two years, working at a low level job, avoiding contact with anyone and everyone associated with TANGENT.

 

Bethany and Travis obtain an entity, but have a limited amount of time to figure out what it does, while trying to save both the world and Paige. Along the way, they discover evil schemes, get a look at a hideous bone-filled, ruined future, and take advantage of Bethany's considerable hacking skills. Oh, and nearly get killed several times.

 

Lee treats us to imaginative uses of the time travel device to help Travis and Bethany stay ahead of the bad guys, gives a nod to the inevitable time travel paradox and delivers one of the most chilling methods to change civilization that I’ve ever read – worthy of the intelligent-but-twisted villains that want to counter the world’s present path.

 

The clever storyline in “Ghost Country” is diabolical, and even shocking, but there are no loose ends. The tech part of “Ghost Country” is blended with great dialogue, interesting characters and relationships, and action that works in any time period. Make sure your ereader is fully charged before starting this novel, because you'll want to read it uninterrupted.

 

“Ghost Country” raises an intriguing question: if you had the opportunity to move to another time (whether past or future) would you? Would you at least be curious enough to take a peek without stepping all the way across the threshold of the time/space continuum? Lee’s novel made me want to.

 

There are references to events in “Breach,” but “Ghost Country” can be read as a stand alone using the brief definitions supplied at the book’s beginning. “Deep Sky” is the third in this series and I’m looking forward to reading about what’s next for these engaging characters in the midst of complex circumstances.

 

“The Runner,” the first in a new series, has just been released.

Please visit www.patrickleefiction.com for more information about this talented author and his other books.

 

Full disclosure: Patrick Lee’s thrilling “Ghost Country” came through my techport as a result of an online endorsement by his agent, Janet Reid. I’m a subscriber to Ms. Reid’s marvelously informative and occasionally sharky snarky column.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - CONVICTION

 

Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.

 

Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.

 

Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.

 

But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.

 

The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.

 

The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?

 

Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.

 

At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.

 

“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.

 

There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.

 

This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.

 

Read the review of "Wrongful Death" here. Go to www.robertdugoni.com for information about all of his projects and where you can catch his next terrific writing class.

 

 

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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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“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.

 

 

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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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“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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