Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Chimera - Rob Thurman

Rob Thurman


When he was 14, Stefan Korsak watched helplessly as a stranger kidnapped his 7-year-old brother, Lukas. He blames himself for starting the train of events that ended with the two brothers leaving the safety of their father’s compound. Their father, a Russian crime boss, seemed to get over the loss fairly quickly, which always puzzled Stefan. He remained devoted to finding his little brother. The story begins with Stefan at 24, working for another crime family to prove to his father that he has what it takes.

He’s never stopped looking for Lukas, and when a PI he hired gives him a lead, he uses every spare moment and every penny he’s got to follow it. The trail leads to a heavily guarded compound outside Miami. Stefan and Saul, the PI, manage to get inside and extract the teenager who is clearly Stefan’s brother. Now he calls himself Michael, and says he doesn’t remember much of anything before the Institute, but he’s fairly sure that Stefan isn’t his brother. From what Stefan saw inside the place, the kids are being brainwashed and used for medical experiments, so he’s not expecting miracles. Now that they’re out, they’re going to have to stay alive – and ahead of the Institute’s leader – long enough to get to safety.

While this is billed as a scifi thriller, it’s much more a story of two brothers with a little scifi around the edges. Stefan tells the story in first-person, so we know what he knows and see what he sees. It’s clear that the teenager who insists on being called Michael is traumatized and is no longer the same sweet little boy who was kidnapped ten years ago, but Stefan is willing to be patient with him. Nothing much matters but having his brother back and getting him somewhere safe.

There are plenty of complications along the way, some far more likely than others, and most of the book is a combination character study and prolonged chase scene. Those two shouldn’t mesh, but somehow it all comes together here. If you’re looking for a lot of futuristic science, or even the author’s more customary urban fantasy (TRICK OF THE LIGHT) you won’t find it here. What you will find is an unlikely hero willing to do anything to save the little brother he lost. There are some interesting twists and turns in the story, and the author leaves the ending open enough for a sequel, but this novel feels satisfyingly complete the way it is.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2010
ISBN# 978-0-451-46342-5 (paperback)

Miracle On the 17th Green - James Patterson and Peter De Jonge

Miracle On The 17th Green
James Patterson and Peter De Jonge
Little, Brown, and Company


Authors James Patterson and Peter De Jonge apparently possess some kind of sorcery, for I know nothing about the game of golf, nor do I care. Somehow, I found myself pulled along in this story of Everyman Travis McKinley as he hits the mother of all midlife crises.

Travis has it pretty good, really. He’s got a beautiful wife who is a respected obstetrician and lecturer; three exceedingly bright and attractive children; a lovely home; a job in advertising that requires him to appear each day but only be ‘good’ three times a year or so; and plenty of time to play golf. But Travis feels invisible in his own life. He’s pretty sure that after the first of the year, his ad agency is going to can him. He feels a certain distance from his wife that terrifies him. The only thing that goes right as this Christmas rolls around is an incredible round of solitary golf. That makes him hours late for Christmas dinner and does nothing to improve his standing with the family.

He does, in fact, get fired from his job. His immediate reaction is to send in the $3,000 entry fee to attend the Senior Tour Qualifying School. Each year, most slots in the Senior Tour go to former pros and winners of past events, but there are eight slots available to the guys who can get through the School and qualify in the top eight. Except for iconoclast grampa (the grampa everyone would love to have) Travis’ circle of family and friends think he’s lost it.

The outcome of this great gamble of middle life is never really in doubt, unless you haven’t read the title. Even a non-golfer like me gets it. I can’t say that Travis is innately likeable, but he’s self-deprecating enough to avoid being a total sad sack. This is a very slight book, and can be read in a matter of hours, especially if you simply scan through the details of the rounds. Knowledge of golf is clearly not necessary here. Just a willingness to believe, for the duration of the story, that given the right circumstances, anyone has a shot.

Rating: 7
May 2010 (reprint from 1999)
ISBN# 978-0-316-09210-4 (hardcover)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Now You See Her - Merline Lovelace

Now You See Her
A Samantha Spade Mystery
Merline Lovelace
Berkley Prime Crime


USAF 2nd Lt. Samantha Spade (ALL THE WRONG MOVES) is in charge of a team that tests inventions for the military. They test the ‘smaller’ things; the things from smaller labs or with less immediate potential for military applications. But they usually take their job pretty seriously. Of course, there are always exceptions. Samantha gets the urge to conduct an unauthorized field test of a vision device that lets it’s wearer see around corners. She conducts the test in a mini-mall’s parking lot. Bad idea, no matter how you look at it.

Seeing around a corner allows her to see an armed man, apparently taking aim at the parking lot. When an SUV pulls in next to her, Samantha shouts a warning. The driver, who turns out to be Army Sgt. Diane Roth, is able to duck and drive at the same time, taking out the shooter. After the police arrive, Diane is visibly shocked to realize that she knew the shooter. They’d served together in Afghanistan, and had a brief relationship. Diane broke it off and thought her ex was in therapy. Investigation shows that he was suffering from PTSD and off his meds.

Since they’re both women in the military, it’s natural that Samantha and Diane become friends, even though their situations are quite different. Samantha is single; Diane is a single mom of two small kids. The more she learns about Diane’s life and background, though, the more Samantha gets the uneasy feeling that there’s plenty Diane isn’t telling.

This is the second in a series, and the plot is much tighter and the story better written than the first outing. Samantha seems to have matured a bit in the intervening time, and that’s good. She’s learned the hard way that not everyone is an open book. Her actions lead to some situations she’d rather have avoided, but she does what she feels is right. This installment makes me think this series could be a winner.

Rating: 7
May 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23476-1 (paperback)

All The Wrong Moves - Merline Lovelace

All The Wrong Moves
A Samantha Spade Mystery
Merline Lovelace
Berkley Prime Crime


Samantha Spade is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Her job consists of running a team of scientists (mostly civilian) that test inventions with possible military applications. Her team tests submissions not deemed important or exciting enough for the Department of Defense. During one of these tests in the desert of West Texas, Samantha literally runs over two dead bodies.

Turns out one of the bodies belonged to an American mercenary and arms dealer. Clearly, whoever killed him and his pal figured the desert would make short work of the body long before it could be found. Since that person was wrong, Samantha meets Jeff Mitchell, a Border Patrol Agent and several other members of several feuding official jurisdictions. One of those would be the FBI, whose agent tells her in no uncertain terms to stay out of it. Naturally, she is unable to do so, especially when someone sets fire to her team’s desert lab.

This is the first in a series, and is written in first-person pov by Samantha. Clearly, she’s supposed to sound mid-20s, but her tone veers from breezy to air headed just a touch too often for my taste. The mystery as a whole is interesting and timely, but the flow of the story is constantly interrupted by Samantha’s observations or her complaints about the military hierarchy.

With a touch more maturity, Samantha would be a great character. Her job certainly lends itself to encountering all kinds of strange situations and individuals. This is a slightly shaky start with some serious potential.

Rating: 6
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-23118-0 (paperback)