The Savage Day by Jack Higgins

Jack Higgins is like reading comfort food. It is well written, action packed with a variety of interesting characters. This is one of a series (do I detect a pattern in some of my reading?) with Simon Vaughan as the main character.

This is set during “The Troubles” in Northern Island. Simon was busted as an arms trafficker in Greece and now the British army has recruited him to act as an arms trafficker for the IRA.

His mission is to recover stolen gold bullion that the IRA is using to finance its terrorism operations. This will not be a simple matter. The IRA is highly factional and Simon is caught between two factions. Both hold an interest in the bullion and both will ruthlessly kill to get it.

The story is set in Belfast and outlying areas in Northern Ireland. The story is a bit dated given that troubles have subsided in recent years but it is still an interesting read.

This is not a long book, nor is it a literary masterpiece. It is just a damn good story from a damn good storyteller.

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Hidden Killers by Lynda LaPlante

 

This is the second book in the Jane Tennison thriller series. As you may know, Jane Tennison is the main character in the Prime Suspect series and was played brilliantly by Helen Mirren in the series.
The Tennison thriller series is focused on her early career in the Metropolitan police in London.

This time, Tennison has been transferred to Bow Street from Hackney after a successful undercover operation in which Tennison, dressed as a prostitute, helped catch a potential rapist.

She has now graduated from a probationary constable to a detective and is still dealing with the fallout from her first detective opportunities at Hackney where her boss Bradfield and a female colleague and mentor who were both killed while trying to bust and armed robbery in progress.

I am not going to say much about the story because LaPlante does a brilliant job of unfolding the crimes, the investigation and the solve. What she does equally as well, if not better, is to create interesting characters – both main and peripheral.

Each character, from Tennison’s family, to each detective to the criminals and supporting actors are all written so well that you feel like you know them intimately. This makes you invested in the story. I loved Prime Suspect and Helen Mirren brought Tennison to life so well, that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing her if they decide to bring this to the screen.

Let’s hope they do and let’s hope there are many more Tennison thrillers on the horizon so we can enjoy reading great stories about her long and illustrious career.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

 

This was a short but interesting little read. Set in Texas during Reconstruction, a man who travels the land reading news articles at public gatherings, has an orphan girl who was kidnapped by the Kiowa, foisted upon him to return her to her aunt and uncle.

The little girl was taken at age 6 and at age 10 has gone fully native Kiowa. She remembers little English or German (her native tongue) and an aunt and uncle who live south of San Antonio, have commissioned people traveling the road to bring her back.

The news reader is an old man now and he and the girl bond through their travels and travails through the newly opened western territories. Along the way they encounter highwaymen, cowboys, merchants, the military and various townspeople.

Each encounter assists them or hinders them in their goal to get to Castroville, Texas. The little girl turns out to be handy and resourceful and the relationship blossoms along the trails and roads of Texas.

This is not a long book but one I found charming and entertaining. If anything, it may have ended a little abruptly but I encourage readers to pick this one up if the old west and reconstruction era America interest you.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This book was a whole lot of fun and I have a very soft spot for it for the following reasons: the author is a fellow Monash University Alumni, it is set in Melbourne Victoria with a side trip to Moree New South Wales (a place in the outback that is remote but amazing) and the main character is autistic without that being a negative.

Don Tillman is a professor at a university in Melbourne. From the character development, it is obvious to the reader that he is some OCD and autistic tendencies and while that definitely has an impact on the things that happen to him and the way he behaves, he does not let that define him.

Into his life stumbles Rosie. A research assistant at the same university she is on a personal quest to discover who her father is. She meets Don because his best friend has shown Rosie Don’s questionnaire which he developed in an effort to find a wife or partner.

Rosie and Don don’t immediately hit it off as romantic companions but there are definitely some hints that it could go in that direction but that will depend on Don’s ability to be flexible which is difficult due to his OCD and autism.

They do find common ground however in Rosie’s quest. Don agrees to help her find and genetically test the candidates who Rosie believes may be her father. It is a wonderful quest that takes the two of them on a journey – both to find Rosie’s paternity and to find each other.

I was excited to discover that there is at least another book in the series and I am very much looking forward to reading it. I think readers will enjoy this book and it’s a great one for book clubs too!

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Kortya

Maybe it’s just me but I found this book sophomoric. There is almost no character development and there are a number of inconsistencies and descriptions that make no sense or lead the reader to incorrect conclusions – and not in the twist in the plot sense.

A 14 year old witnesses two hit men murder some people and throw them into a quarry in Indiana. Fast forward – a man and his wife who run an Outward Bound type of Wilderness school in Colorado are approached by a law enforcement Fed to hide the boy until the trial.

Quickly fast forward, a group of boys arrive; the wife is attacked and severely injured while the group is out, by the hit men. They burn down the house but miraculously the wife survives.

Suffice to say, these kinds of unbelievable events continue to happen. Characters are introduced and quickly drop out of the story without being developed. The wife, although severely burned and injured gets up out of her hospital bed to assist the boy and a mentally tormented storm jumper who managed to get her whole platoon burned.

I just don’t enjoy books where characters are underdeveloped and which are largely plot driven. That is where this book falls for me. Too many strange and wild jumps in logic and believability. And the hitmen? Ultimately identified as Australian by someone who has obviously no understanding of the accent.

There are other things of this nature but I leave it to you to decide if this is something you want to pick up.

The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver

Once again I was gifted with a book that is part of a series. This time it is the series about Lincoln Rhyme, a forensic crime scene investigator who is also a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. He has free movement of his head and part of his right hand at this point in the series.

An unknown perpetrator who has expertise with live electrical equipment has created a giant arc flash using high voltage lines that has killed one person. The New York forensic team led by Lincoln Rhyme is brought in to help catch the mad man.

A second story arc involves a character named The Watchmaker who it seems was already developed in a previous Rhyme novel. In this part of the story, Rhyme is acting as an advisor to police in Mexico City who believe the Watchmaker is working in tandem with corrupt politicians and police as well as drug cartels.

As the book progresses, the perpetrator continues with an increasingly more gruesome series of murders that have the team running all over New York trying to catch him. A corporate utility company believes they are targets because they are trying to create a monopoly on the grid.

Alternative energy inventors and groups believe they may be the target because they are trying to create energy sources that offer lower prices or potentially free energy. The city is in the grip of fear….

This was a pretty action packed novel and kept moving. It is an action packed vacation read or when readers need a break from reading more literary novels. A good potboiler with current eco interests.

American Pastoral by Phillip Roth

This novel is a literary character study about an American man growing up in post-World War II New Jersey. Seymour “Swede” Levov grew up the son of a Jewish immigrant glove maker. His nickname was earned by being the blond haired, blue eyed high school heart throb that was a star on the football, baseball and basketball teams.

After high school, Swede leaves and joins the Marines. It is the very end of World War II and instead of storming the beaches in Europe or the Pacific, Swede becomes the star of the Marine baseball league. He meets a gentile girl but his parents dissuade him from marrying her.

He returns to Newark, New Jersey to learn the ropes in running his father’s glove factory from the ground up. He meets an Irish Catholic beauty pageant winner who has established her local identity as Miss New Jersey and failed to grab the Miss America Crown.

They have a daughter, Merry, born during the post-war baby boom. An only child, she is brought up in the suburban/semi-rural landscape outside of Newark – sheltered and protected from the urban environment and brought up as a typical suburbanite. She is showered with every advantage an only child can have.

As with every teenager, as Merry grows up, she begins to distance herself from her parents and their values and ideals. This part of the story takes place in the mid to late 1960’s against a backdrop of anti-war protests and political unrest. Merry starts to disappear on frequent trips to New York City despite being underage and against her parents’ wishes.

As the story unfolds, it turns out Merry has joined the Weathermen and through her radicalization, she bombs her local suburban grocery store/post office, killing a man who was the local doctor. Her parents are mortified and the story then becomes about how they are ostracized or pitied by other community members and their breakdowns – both personal and marital.

This is a slowly unfolding character study so readers should be advised to give it time and attention and not look for a big payoff. This is a thought piece. If I had to offer a comparison, it might be the 1970’s set “The Ice Storm.”

I enjoyed this book and recommend it for those who enjoy Mad Men era stories. This is an American classic.