Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dangerous Desires - Dee Davis

Dangerous Desires
Dee Davis
Grand Central/Forever

Romantic Suspense

This is the second in a series that began with DARK DECEPTIONS. If you didn’t read the first book, you missed a good story, but you’re not going to feel lost here. This one begins with secret operative Drake Flynn working a job with a female spy. Unfortunately for him, it quickly becomes obvious (as in, the first couple of pages) that she’s only working him for her own reasons. The experience leaves Drake with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Cut to Columbia, where Madeline Reynard has been forced into working for a drug lord’s syndicate in a desperate effort to free her drug-addicted sister. When the cartel’s focus turns from drugs to weapons, Madeline manages to get a message out, detailing the danger and the general location of the weapons stockpile. Enter A-TAC, the secret operational group of which Drake is part. They can’t go in through the front door, since this is Columbia, and when things go wrong during the operation (objectives: destroy weapons and get Madeline and all her information back to DC,) Madeline and Drake get cut off from the rest of the group. That leaves them to make their way through the jungle to a secondary rendezvous point.

As with the first novel, there’s plenty of action. The first half of the novel involves the flight through the jungle, and the second half brings up some very interesting plot twists. Unlike the first book, though, this one didn’t ring quite as true. There were just too many coincidences for my taste. Still, the author really has a nice way with an action sequence, and places the action/suspense on a higher level than the romance, which is what I like in a book like this.

There’s a subplot that involves sabotage, either from within the group or in the chain of command. That plot was furthered here, but not finished. There are lots of clues dropped as to who the traitor may be, and I’ve got my main suspect pinpointed. The pace of the story moves along very quickly, only getting interrupted by some necessary background-sharing discussions. The end of this one seemed a bit abrupt, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the author ties up everything in the third installment.

Rating: 7
July 2010
ISBN# 978-0-446-54204-3 (paperback)

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Target - Mark Greaney

On Target
A Gray Man Novel
Mark Greaney


When we last saw contract assassin Court Gentry at the end of THE GRAY MAN (slight, but really unavoidable spoiler) he’d been shot, stabbed, beaten half to death, and still managed to save both the day and his own dignity. When we meet him again at the start of this, his second outing, he’s mostly healed from the previous mayhem. But, during his convalescence, he picked up a nasty little addiction to painkillers, aided in no small part by his slightly shady doctor. While this might be understandable in a civilian, it’s a serious impediment to continuing a career as a paid assassin, where any misstep or hesitation could be your last.

It’s an interesting an unexpected character development in a thriller starring a guy who should be hyper-vigilant and completely clear-headed. While the addiction, and Court’s struggle with it, seems quite realistic and makes him much more human and vulnerable, I found myself a bit disappointed with this new, more fuzzy-thinking Gray Man. A lot of the fun in the previous entry revolved around Court’s nearly superhuman ability to think or act or shot his way out of any situation. That, after all, is how he became a legend in certain circles as The Gray Man.

This time around, he’s working for pretty much anyone who will give him a paying contract (subject to his own moral compass and approval of the job.) That’s how he ends up taking a job from Russian Mob overboss “Sid” Sidorenko, a man who would, under normal circumstances find himself at the business end of one of the Gray Man’s many weapons. The job in question is to take out the despotic leader of a ravaged African country. Court is set to take the job when he’s contacted by his old pals from the CIA. These pals are currently under orders to shoot Court on sight, so it’s a fairly surprising development. The CIA has some different ideas about what to do with the African leader, and they’d like to use Court’s Russian contract as their way in, making him a sort of double agent. If he agrees, and succeeds, they’ll rescind that pesky shoot-on-sight directive and welcome him back into the fold. With many misgivings, but not much left to lose, Court agrees.

While the first book was a sort of world tour, assassin style, most of this novel takes place in Africa. The job starts going wrong pretty much from the get-go, and there’s one snafu after another. There’s a rather lengthy section involving a female human rights lawyer foolishly travelling alone in this lawless land who wants to think that Court is really a nice guy who’s just gone off the rails. The reason for her presence becomes clear later, but these sections seem to drag.

Maybe it’s the old sophomore curse. THE GRAY MAN was hugely entertaining, very fast-paced and almost impossible to put down. That’s a tough act to follow. ON TARGET is filled with great action scenes, but the pacing and drive really picked up in the second half, leading up to an ending that was classic Court. The final pages give me hope that the upcoming novel, coming in 2011 and excerpted at the end of this one, will return the ‘old’ Court to his fighting form.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2010
ISBN# 978-0-515-14845-9 (paperback)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

How To Crash A KIller Bash - Penny Warner

How To Crash A Killer Bash
A Party Planning Mystery
Penny Warner

Never let it be said that Presley Parker doesn’t know how to throw a convincing Murder Mystery Party. It’s dress rehearsal night for the murder mystery to be played out at a fund raising party for the de Young museum in San Francisco. As usual, Mary Lee Miller, museum fund-raiser and all-around pain in the neck is making it all about her. Which it sort of is, since Mary Lee insisted on playing the murder victim. Little did she realize that, on the night of the party, the stab wound and death scene would be all too real.

The last player in the room with Mary Lee was Delicia, Presley’s friend and employee. The police zero in on Delicia and find out very quickly that she and Mary Lee had a huge fight the previous evening, mostly to do with Delicia dating Mary Lee’s adult son. With Delicia in jail and the cops satisfied, it’s clearly up to Presley to put her skills to the test and flush out the real killer.
This is the second in this entertaining series, following HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY. Presley is mostly on her own this time, since Delicia is in jail and her other employees seem to be unavailable. The story does suffer a bit from their absence and camaraderie. This time around, much is made of crime scene cleaning specialist Brad Matthews, and Presley’s fondness for him. Since the author clearly doesn’t want to clue in Presley (or the reader) about ‘what’s really going on with Brad’ just yet, this results in a lot of circular conversations and hurt feelings and not much progress.

The rest of the supporting cast fares far better. The internal workings of the museum, and the people who staff it, read like the sudsiest of soap operas. Jealousies, rivalries, entanglements, and motives abound almost everywhere Presley looks. This is what makes for a fun mystery full of twists and surprises. Adding to the suspense are two more dead bodies that turn up, begging the question of Delicia’s involvement from her jail cell. It takes every organizational and snooping skill that Presley possesses to peel back the layers. Sadly, this one ends in what I like to call a James Bond Villain Reveal, where the (surprising) Big Bad spends oodles of time detailing past motives and future plans, instead of simply offing the nosey event planner who wants to ruin everything. Not that I want to see Presley offed, of course. I’m looking forward to the next party.

Rating: 7
August 2010
ISBN# 0-451-23097-3 (paperback)