“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 for more information about the popular John Corey series and the many other bestselling DeMille thrillers.





“Takedown” by Brad Thor


Book Cover - Takedown


#1 New York Times bestselling author, Brad Thor, delivers thrillers that keep the action moving. His series of twelve novels feature counterterrorist Scot Horvath as the central character.


In honor of the fans old and new of the enormously successful books, Thor arranged for an entire year of “Thrills, Threats, and Thor.” He invited them to read each of the books (one a month) in order, starting in January, 2013, with the first, “The Lions of Lucerne.” Thor’s website has videos and extras about each of the books and of course, an opportunity to buy them.


May’s book is “Takedown,” first published in 2006. It is just as topical as Thor’s other recent books and deals with post September 11th terrorism action in New York City. In a horrifying glimpse of the future, bridges as well as tunnels are blown up at the beginning of the book and the resulting action places the President’s daughter in danger.


But, are the explosions and destruction a smokescreen for something else? Something even more devastating to our nation’s security than what has already occurred?


Yes, indeed. And, unfortunately, quite believable.


Foreign soldiers are in the streets and are looking for one of their own, having created the chaos of a burning, crippled New York in order to paralyze any opposition. But the man is so feared that the US government will not admit that he even exists, let alone that he is being held somewhere. The plot is scary enough to give the reader chills and instill a sincere wish that none of this nightmarish scenario ever comes to pass in the USA.


Scot Harvath is well written, with some depth and a sense of humanity despite the gravity of his tasks. We experience moments of his deep commitment and never question his patriotism as the drama unfolds.


There are multiple bad guys – believable in that they are multi-dimensional – the worst one (a really nasty type) has dogs that he loves and treats tenderly.


As in many thrillers, there is a suspension of disbelief while the reader goes along for the ride, but the practicality of one of the action sequences seemed off to my New York City pals. Secret Service agents must get the dying daughter to a hospital. In actual fact, driving a car along the sidewalks of Manhattan to avoid grid-lock traffic doesn’t really work. During the day on most streets, the sidewalks are blocked with potted trees and restaurant awnings and litter baskets and fruit stands and flower stands, etc. and are just too narrow for a car to make any headway. And, if mass transit shuts down, the people spill onto those very sidewalks while they try to get home. “Never gonna happen,” was one comment, even though New Yorkers would like it to.


Aside from that, Thor gets the feel of the city exactly right, with its complex maze of office buildings, side streets, subway stairwells, alleys, parks, garages, et al as the background for Harvath’s chase.


Be prepared to re-examine the anger of the post 9/11 world in this intense novel, which does include torture scenes. Terrible choices must be made throughout the book, and sometimes the lines are blurred between good and evil. Thor makes the case so well, that taken in the post-9/11 context, we never doubt for a moment that it’s necessary.


If you’d like to catch up with the Thor 2013 reading plan, here are the books in order:

January’s Book: The Lions Of Lucerne
February’s Book: Path Of The Assassin
March’s Book: State Of The Union
April’s Book: Blowback
May’s Book: Takedown
June’s Book: The First Commandment
July’s Book: The Last Patriot
August’s Book: The Apostle
September’s Book: Foreign Influence
October’s Book: The Athena Project
November’s Book: Full Black
December’s Book: Black List


Please visit to read about the other titles in the series, as well as the new release coming in July, “Act of War.”



“The 13th Hour” by Richard Doetsch


Book Cover - The 13th Hour2


Have you ever been so angry that you stormed out of the room, tied up in knots with feelings of hurt and frustration? When you had a chance to cool off, did you wish that you could take back what you had said – redo the last ten minutes? Regrets are often shared at funerals about the ‘if only’ moments: “If only I had gone along with her, if only I had agreed…"


But, what if the person you were fighting with is found murdered just a few hours later? Your fingerprints are on the murder weapon found in your car, but you didn’t do it? Nick Quinn is in jail for killing his wife. But is Julia really dead?


In an inventive method of storytelling, Richard Doetsch begins “The 13th Hour” at chapter 12 and works backwards. A mysterious man visits Quinn in jail and offers him the opportunity to find his wife’s killer and inexplicably, stop her from being murdered, to make the murder disappear as if it never occurred. The catch? Quinn only has twelve hours to solve the puzzles thrown at him. At the end of each hour, the clock will restart, taking him back to an hour earlier. Each decision he makes will change the future for everyone with whom he comes in contact. And, he will give anything, do anything, to have his wife back at his side.


The twists and turns that occur as the future/past is rewritten are surprising and make for an extremely clever plot. Nick discovers things about his wife and best friend/neighbor he did not know in the past and begins to wish hadn’t been revealed in the now. Interesting supporting characters’ lives are shifted in sometimes chilling ways and nobody is as honest as they first appear.


Doetsch also tells the story of the people affected by the reverse time travel, so that we see how each of them handles their alternate reality, but our fast-thinking hero is the only one who knows what is happening all the time. We think that we know the ending, because that’s how the book started, but that would be too easy. There are some nasty villains, a devastating plane crash that factors into the twelve hours of choices, a heart-breaking deception, unexpected intrigue, and a theft that made me wonder what could possibly happen next? What else could possibly go wrong for this likeable, desperate man? “The 13th Hour” kept me going as each new wrinkle was disclosed, right until the last page. Great read!


Doetsch’s most recent novel, “Thieves of Legend,” (the fourth in the Michael St. Pierre series) is also an action-packed thriller, with unwilling thieves as the protagonists.


For more information about Richard Doetsch’s fascinating life off the page, his bestselling books, and future projects, visit


“Buried Secrets” by Joseph Finder

Book Cover - Buried Secrets

What’s the definition of a 5-star book? “Buried Secrets,” by Joseph Finder. Totally, slam-dunk, 5-star thriller!


Ratings can be subjective, but I think everyone would agree that certain elements are apparent in each reader’s choice for a 5-star book, whatever the genre.


5-star books have characters so compelling that it’s impossible to forget them. Nick Heller is a former intelligence officer with Special Forces background. Heller is excellent at uncovering secrets, is loyal to his family and friends and has an ache in his heart for an old FBI flame. He has a secretary who can hack into anything and contacts going way back. And a look that you defy at your own peril. Even Heller is not always immune to ‘the look.’ A family friend, evasive billionaire Marshall Marcus, asks for Nick’s help when his daughter, Alexa, is kidnapped. Alexa is a troubled, intelligent teenager with an earlier kidnapping experience that colors her fear of small spaces. This time, she has been buried alive with limited food and water. Finder has drawn Alexa so well that I felt her terror as she pushed against the coffin, as she tried to stay calm and lost it, as she pleaded for release, as she screamed.


5-star books can’t be put down until the last word is read. I carried “Buried Secrets” everywhere. I read it while waiting in line, while eating. I just couldn’t abandon Heller while he dealt with the constantly lying father, the rule conscious FBI, the sick kidnappers, the layers of secrets, the pulse-pounding race against time.


A 5-star book makes me want to buy the author’s next book or backlist titles right away. I purchased “Vanished,” the first Nick Heller novel, the day after I finished “Buried Secrets.” Joseph Finder has several award winning novels to his name, as well as “High Crimes,” upon which the Freeman/Judd movie of the same name was based. I’m going to read them all.


A 5-star book pushes ‘tell-all’ buttons. I wanted to tell everyone about it. I gushed about compelling characterization and riveting storylines, achieved realistically.


A 5-star book is saved, whether on an e-reader or in hardcover, so that it can be relished, studied and enjoyed again. My copy is a hardcover edition. Terrific thriller!


For more information about Joseph Finder and his work, visit


"Buried Secrets" won the Strand Critics Award for Best Novel.



“Foreign Body” by Robin Cook


Robin Cook, author of over two dozen medical thrillers, took on the medical tourism industry in “Foreign Body.” As in all his books, we are invited to view the dark side of medicine, so if you are considering traveling overseas to get a kidney transplant or a hip replacement, think again. Just kidding…  maybe…  😉


The sinister plot revolves around the untimely passing of a sixtyish grandmother after undergoing hip surgery in India. The fourth-year medical student granddaughter, Jennifer Hernandez, finds out about her loss while watching CNN in California only hours after granny has died. Medical tourism is the culprit behind the death (and two others), with American medical company employees out to discredit surgeries performed in other countries in order to keep business firmly in the USA.


We know who is at fault from the beginning, but the fun is in seeing how the granddaughter travels to India and unravels the complex crime, then discovers the criminals trying to cover their tracks. Her mentor, NYC medical examiner Dr. Laurie Montgomery, and Laurie’s husband, Dr. Jack Stapleton, follow Hernandez to India when unexplained medical questions arise and she is pressured unnecessarily to cremate her grandmother. We aren’t sure until nearly the end how it will all work out, but we are fully invested in the characters as the tension mounts and the stakes escalate.


I met Dr. Cook at a writer’s conference (where he was interviewed by “Sandstorm” author, James Rollins) and he was kind enough to autograph a copy of “Foreign Body” for my mother, a huge fan. She chose it for me to read to her during a hospital stay and several chapters work well as cliffhangers. It was hard to put down and leave behind when the story moved along so well. Fun read.


Fans of Cook have probably seen the movie, “Coma.” The book of the same name was Cook’s breakthrough novel, largely defining the ‘medical thriller’ genre over thirty years ago.


Visit for more information about Dr. Cook, his many bestselling books, and the 50 webisodes of “Foreign Body.” 





“Sandstorm” by James Rollins

Book Cover - Sandstorm

If you’re looking for a little syfy, lots of science, tons of thrills and even a romance packed into a great book, then “Sandstorm” should be your next read.  


A mysterious blue ball of fire explodes in the Kensington Gallery in the British Museum, the security guard is incinerated, and almost all the artifacts destroyed. The benefactor of the exhibit, Kara Kensington, is sure there is a connection between the explosion and her father’s death from blue fire in the Arabian desert years before. Dr. Safia al-Maaz (curator of the gallery and childhood friend of Kensington) uncovers a clue in the middle of the destruction to an incredible secret, and demonstrates unusual capabilities for a curator. The bodies pile up after an assault on the gallery is made.  


Painter Crowe is an agent for Sigma Force, a covert group working for the US government to keep scientific discoveries safely in US control. Cassandra is his previous ally, has stolen secrets and is now working for the opposition. Dr. Crowe is dispatched to London to investigate the possibility that the explosion was caused by anti-matter – has someone uncovered an unlimited energy source?  


An expedition to the Arabian Peninsula and Ubar, the lost city of the desert and source of all anti-matter secrets, is organized. Dr. al-Maaz reluctantly travels along, unwilling to face her former fiancé, Omaha Dunn, the archeologist/Indiana Jones type needed on the expedition. Crowe and his partner are forced upon the trip by the US government, but nobody knows the real reason behind the interference.  


And that’s just Part 1. “Sandstorm” gets even more exciting as the plots develop.  


Part of the fun of reviewing novels is taking a look at the book that launched a dynamite series. “Sandstorm” is the first of eight in the bestselling Sigma Force stories, and it’s easy to see why there are so many fans. The unexpected twists make this a page-turner as we root for the very likable main characters to overcome the obstacles of storms, ancient curses, and government entities. Even the bad guys are interesting and make worthy adversaries for the heroes.  


“Sandstorm” incorporates lots of real science in the action-packed storyline, and it’s so well done that I began to wonder how much was fiction and how much actual fact. Happily, Rollins includes a fact disclosure at the end of the book for the curious. No plot spoiler here, but who knew that buckyballs were real?  


One of the intriguing subplots involves gals from an ancient sister society. They have the ability to disappear at will in front of your eyes – I REALLY want to learn that trick. Thrilling five-star adventure! With scene after scene of slam-dunk writing, and an ending designed for the big screen, I’d love to see a movie made of this one. I’m casting the major roles in my mind right now.  


For more information about James Rollins, the Sigma Force series, his work in YA fiction, as well as his collaboration with Rebecca Cantrell for the 'Blood Gospel' series, visit          



“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    



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