63 y/o psychologist with two sons, living in SF Bay Area. I absolutely love all the feedback I've been getting for my reviews. It's very gratifying. Thanks to all of you.
I should try to restrain my praise for Polar Star, but I can't, so I won't. Martin Cruz Smith has written a book so fine, with characters so vivid, a reality so fully lived and a plot so clever that you truly are caught up in this world, the Bering Sea, and a "fish factory ship" in which Arkady Renko slaves on the "slime line." If you haven't read a Martin Cruz Smith book, you are in for a treat, and this one is narrated by the greatest reader who ever lived. I first heard Polar Star about ten years ago, and I listen to it every two or three years. Frank Muller had skills that other narrators can only dream of. He was a classically trained actor. His range of voices was stupendous. Renko is one of the most human of any fictional characters ever created. He is a disgraced Moscow homicide detective. He holds on to his humanity in spite of the efforts of the Communist rulers of Russia to degrade him. The first book in this series, Gorky Park, was made into a movie starring William Hurt as Renko and Lee Marvin, one of the best Hollywood bad guys, as the villain. Polar Star could also be made into a movie. There are so many cinematic scenes that you want to cast them yourself. The climax of the book (I will not spoil it) is a whiteout chase on the ice which I believe you will never forget. The closing image still stuns me. Get ready for Polar Star: once you start listening, you truly will not want to stop. Trust me.
I'd never heard of Kenneth Abel, but he sure can spin a yarn. The story of Jack Walsh and his struggles through the Boston Police Department, with his alcoholism and with his family, all ring true. The plot runs all over the place, but never becomes incoherent. The book is entertaining throughout. The mob boss DiAngelo is a very clever man, and the intrigues that swirl around him and his cronies read beautifully; just like the real thing, at least insofar as we know them in fiction. The book is fast-paced without being shallow. Walsh is an honest cop surrounded by corruption, something like the story of Frank Serpico, which is mentioned in the text. However, Walsh is not trying to stamp out the corruption and become a hero. He is merely trying to stay alive, with local cops and Feds swarming around him to try to nail DiAngelo.
Frank Muller was the finest narrator who ever lived. He had such a repertoire of voices, accents, dialogues, moods and inflections that the reader is thrilled at virtually everything he does. He narrated 200 books in his career, and almost all of them are great. His range as a narrator knows no bounds. He never hits a false note. You can listen to him for hours and hours and never get tired of the experience. From a book like this to John Grisham to Moby Dick to Charles Dickens to the George Smiley series to The Horse Whisperer: listen to him and you will recognize a towering talent that, I am guessing, will never be approached by any other narrator. Frank left us with a unique gift, and I feel lucky to be able to hear his work. He can do no wrong, IMHO (in my humble opinion). Do yourself a favor. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.
This book kept me chuckling and guessing all the way through it; in fact, to the very last paragraph. Mr. Berney knows how to write a thriller, and he has a great sense of humor. Mr. Balerini, though, is a truly wonderful discovery. His feel for the material is absolutely commanding. His delivery of the funny stuff is dead-on; there are lines in the book which might be just mildly funny, but he makes them sing. The plot is inventive, taking Our Hero Shake through LA, Las Vegas and all the way to Panama City. The search for the religious relic is hilarious. I won't spoil it by telling you what everybody is fighting for; that's half the fun. Gina, our female star, is someone I can't really call a hero, but she sure is fun herself, if you are amused by a ruthless, amoral psychopath using her blazing sexuality to baffle every man in sight. I loved her. There are sleazy bad guys and complicated good guys, an obscenely wealthy dork whom you can't possibly do anything but hate, an extremely clever female Armenian gangster (yes, Armenian) and a bunch of others whom only Mr. Berney could invent. I hope he is working on another book, and I desperately hope Mr. Balerini reads it. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.