I liked "The Dark Monk" better than its predecessor, "The Hangman's Daughter." It tells a better story, and it has fewer horrific descriptions of Midieval torture. (Yes, I know that this story technically takes place during the Reformation, but the people and villages depicted here still seem locked deep in the Middle Ages.) I also liked it better because of Pötzsch's increased inclusion of herbology in this story. Here, Pötzsch speculates about the original discovery of Penicillin, attributing it to one of his characters. Such speculation makes some sense: Practicing herbalists may, indeed, have quietly discovered the antibiotic properties of certain molds prior to Alexander Flemming's official discovery of Penicillium rubens in 1928. With "The Hangman's Daughter," Pötzsch built a tale around one of his real 17th-century forebears: a veritable village executioner. Whodathunk that anyone could make a hero out of someone who tortures and murders for a living? I, personally, find this character difficult to believe -- an executioner with a gentle heart and the gift of healing? However, if you can swallow that premise, then you might like "The Dark Monk," in which the executioner, his daughter, and her lover solve another mystery. And what a mystery they solve: the location and nature of the lost Templar treasure! The narrator, Grover Gardner, also does a better job with this audiobook than he did with "The Hangman's Daughter," using a wider variety of voices to distinguish the characters. He doesn't have very good accents in his repertory, but he makes attempts, as necessary. I hesitate to say this -- because "The Hangman's Daughter" contains a lot of harrowing scenes of cruelty -- but you will probably enjoy "The Dark Monk" better if you have listened to "The Hangman's Daughter" first. You stand forewarned.
... and 𝙬𝙖𝙮 too much filatio. Although Andrew Vachss' Burke series started promisingly with "Flood;" by "Blue Belle" -- the third entry in the series -- Vachss has sunk far too deeply into male sexual fantasies and outright pornography, marring his otherwise excellent writing and plotting. I think that I will continue listening to a few more entries in the Burke series only because I enjoy narrator Phil Gigante's amazing acting skills so much, and because I am hoping that Vachss will eventually get over it. (I am currently listening to "Blossom" -- the fifth entry in the series -- and I think that it may be taking a turn for the better.) Also, if Burke doesn't stop chain-smoking pretty soon, he is going to die, anyway. (The Burke series went on for 18 entries, up to 2008's "Another Life," so maybe both Vachss and his protagonist got their acts together.) I am not quite ready to give up on Burke just yet ... but "Blue Belle" gets pretty disgusting sometimes.
Think "Sin City." (If you have not yet seen the remarkable 2005 movie, "Sin City," see if you can rent it or borrow it. If you like "Sin City," you will like "Flood.") Imagine Clive Owen playing Burke. Somebody (Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez) should film this book. Talk about New York's 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙢𝙮 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙗𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙮! "Flood" combines the hard-boiled detective fiction of the '40s and '50s (think Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler on steroids) -- including all the smoking (OMG, Burke, will you quit smoking before you kill yourself?) with "Sin City"'s over-the-top noir -- including the (unintentionally?) funny male sexual fantasies. Our protagonist, Burke (just one name, thank you very much ... how cool is 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩?) has had a hard life, which has made him tough and cynical. He now mixes with the dregs of society -- the hookers (with hearts of gold, of course), the thieves, the con artists, the convicts, the rejects, the bottom-feeders, and the low-lifes. But wait: Burke has 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙖𝙧𝙙𝙨! You will enjoy watching him take out the trash. What you need to know about author Andrew Vachss is that he is a practicing attorney who devotes himself to protecting abused children; and his protagonist in the Burke series had been abused in childhood. Now Burke deals out revenge to all abusers. I rank narrator Christopher Lane as one of my favorite voice actors: He has a beautiful voice 𝙖𝙣𝙙 chops. I liked "Flood" so much that, before I had even finished listening to it, I went ahead and purchased the next audiobook in the series, "Strega," to which I have almost finished listening now. I recommend "Flood" to any aficionado of old-fashioned, hard-boiled noir.
Yes, "Identical" presents us with a bit of a departure for Turow, particularly if you love his wonderful courtroom scenes; but try to keep your mind open to something new from Turow. You will still find some good courtroom scenes here -- actually, some pretty brilliant legal thinking from Judge Du Bois Lands -- but mostly, in "Identical," Turow is branching off into something like Jeffrey Archer territory: a family drama enacted over decades. For example, if you liked Archer's "Sons of Fortune," then you might enjoy Turow's "Identical." Of course, identical twins present a wealth of plot possibilities for a novelist; and Turow takes full advantage of them to create an intriguing mystery. For instance, did you know that identical twins do not have 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical DNA, nor 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical fingerprints? Turow uses this phenomenon to construct a legal puzzle. I would not call "Identical" a legal thriller, like Turow's previous offerings. Rather, I would put it more into the legal mystery/drama genre, á 𝘭𝘢 Jeffrey Archer. Although I wouldn't rank narrator Henry Leyva among my favorite narrators, he does have a nice voice, and does an adequate job of reading "Identical" for us. Overall, I would recommend "Identical" to mystery-lovers, and even to Turow fans, as long as you keep your mind open to a departure from form.
"Murder inside the Beltway" was Margaret Truman's final entry in her long-running Capital Crimes series. (She died in 2008 -- the year of this novel's publication -- although the popular series is now being continued by other authors.) All of the Capital Crimes novels are murder mysteries set in Washington, D.C., with its attendant political backdrop. I have listened to many of the Capitol Crimes audiobooks, and someday hope to listen to them all, in chronological order. (Most of them have not yet been recorded, and Audible does not carry many of those that have, as of this writing.) I have noticed that, as the series progressed, so did Ms Truman's cynicism with Washington politics. "Murder inside the Beltway" takes political cynicism to its inevitable conclusion. See if this quote from the novel reminds you of any recent events:
“The Pyle administration had set the standard for lying away its misdeeds: a callous economic policy, leaving millions behind; disastrous foreign incursions sold to the American public through out-and-out falsehoods; abject corruption in myriad agencies and departments; and a litany of disasters that would seem to ensure a one-term presidency.”
Regarding Washington politics, Margaret Truman frequently quotes her famous father's statement: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." As with the other Capital Crimes entries, in "Murder inside the Beltway" Truman weaves police procedurals in with the political shenanigans. Here, we have some police shenanigans woven in, as well, including a bad cop on the take. I deducted a star from my overall rating of this audiobook, only because the character development of this bad cop -- Walt Hatcher, a bigoted, foul-mouthed, corrupt veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department -- has a sweet, but inconsistent and unbelievable relationship with his wife. Otherwise, "Murder inside the Beltway" has a well-developed, intriguing plot.
The narrator, Patrick Lawlor, does have an odd voice, as some other reviewers have pointed out; but he does have some acting chops, including the perfect, raspy voice for the unlikable Walt Hatcher. What he lacks in vocal repertoire he can frequently compensate for with inflection. I didn't mind his voice; but I suggest that, if you are contemplating purchasing this audiobook, you listen to the 4-minute sample that Audible provides, to see if Lawlor's voice bothers you. Otherwise, I recommend this audiobook to all mystery/thriller fans.
"The Night Monster" is the third -- and, as of this writing, the most recent -- entry in Swain's Jack Carpenter series. However, I do not think that Swain will let the series end here; because in this novel our hero -- Jack Carpenter -- meets and works with Swain's previous protagonist, Tony Valentine (whom I miss, and gladly welcomed back). In case you have not yet listened to any of the Jack Carpenter audiobooks -- or any of the Tony Valentine audiobooks, for that matter -- I would suggest backtracking a bit before you start "The Night Monster," and listen to some of Swain's previous entries in both series. Swain started off with the captivating Tony Valentine series, which followed the adventures of a P.I. specializing in catching gambling cheaters. The Tony Valentine series had seven fascinating entries, running through 2006, and ranging all over the U.S. map -- wherever gambling casinos can be found. Then Swain began the Jack Carpenter series (with only three episodes, so far), following a South Florida P.I. with an entirely different specialty: locating missing children. Then, in 2012, Swain entered the burgeoning supernatural detective genre with his wonderfully entertaining Peter Warlock series, taking place in New York City. Is this author versatile, or what? He not only has versatility, he also possesses 𝙩𝙖𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙩: in both the writing and plotting departments. Plus, he keeps getting better. I have not regretted for a moment having invested in Swain's entire audiobook o𝙚𝒖𝙫𝙧𝙚. However -- recognizing that you may not want to make such a large investment sight unseen -- I would suggest listening to "Sucker Bet" before starting "The Night Monster," just so you can first meet Tony Valentine in approximately the same environment where you will re-encounter him here.
I like narrator Peter J. Fernandez' voice and acting skills just fine in "The Night Monster." I appreciate that he reads slowly and enunciates clearly; however, I suspect that his slow delivery may irritate some listeners. I would suggest listening to the sample that Audible provides, before purchasing "The Night Monster," if you think that slow narration may turn you off. Otherwise, I recommend this audiobook to anyone who enjoys mystery-thrillers with ingenious, complex plots.
Although Audible has not yet designated it as such, "Loaded Dice" actually comes fourth in Swain's Tony Valentine series. Unfortunately, the first two entries in the series -- "Grift Sense" and "Funny Money" -- have not yet been recorded on audiobooks, as far as I know; so we have no choice but to start in the middle of this entertaining series. (I always prefer to listen to series novels in chronological order.) I recommend listening to "Sucker Bet" (#3 in the Tony Valentine series) before starting "Loaded Dice," just to pick up some backstory: Tony Valentine, retired Atlantic City cop, now works as a consultant to gambling casinos, exposing grifters. I enjoy this series a great deal. Swain clearly knows whereof he speaks, showing us the many -- frequently cunningly clever -- ways in which people can cheat the gambling establishments out of large sums. Most of these tricks involve deft sleight-of-hand, almost like that practiced by magicians. In "Loaded Dice," we get the additional element of Muslim terrorists thrown in, as well. Clearly this series will not suit everybody; however, I think that anybody who enjoys poker or craps or Las Vegas will probably get a kick out of all of James Swain's Tony Valentine novels. Narrator Paul Boehmer does not have a beautiful voice, but does a better-than-adequate job narrating "Loaded Dice."
The title, "Triple Cross," has a dual meaning, here, referring not only to the 14-year-old triplet children of protagonist Mickey Hennessy -- who play a significant part in the story -- but also to the three-phase unfolding of the villains' motives. At first, we kind of get behind the invaders' stated goals:
"The government has become a mouthpiece for the corporations, no matter what political party holds power. ... The future lies in a third direction, through a dangerous crossroads, where global corporate power has to be challenged, held accountable, and defeated."
Indeed, the invaders call themselves "The Third Position Army," allegedly offering an alternative to international corporate greed and corruption. They propose to try the worst offenders in the Court of Public Opinion -- live over the internet -- allowing the People to vote on the guilt of these Bad Boys, then proposing appropriate punishment. Accordingly, a fat cat senator is tried first, his indiscretions exposed, the People vote him guilty by the millions, and the Third Position Army sentences him to humiliating public exposure. Just deserts, right?
But wait -- then the Army starts going overboard, killing people. Oops. Now they are behaving as badly as the Bad Guys. We feel betrayed! By the end, we get betrayed yet again: Triple Cross.
"Triple Cross" is not a deep, important book; but it entertains well. It has a plausible, interesting, exciting plot with likable protagonists. Narrator Lloyd James does not have a beautiful voice, but does a pretty good job distinguishing the characters from one another. I recommend this audiobook to anyone looking for fun escape fiction.
First, I think that I should tell you why you might 𝙣o𝙩 want to purchase "The Skorpion Directive," as this novel will not suit everyone. Don't buy this audiobook if you have not yet listened its Micah Dalton series predecessors -- starting with "The Echelon Vendetta" (2007) -- because you will miss out on the continuity and some of the allusions. Secondly, don't buy this audiobook if you object to right-wing proselytizing. Yes, David Stone has a right-of-center political stance ... but, then, so do Tom Clancy, Patrick Robinson, Stephen Hunter, and most of the other Military Thriller writers. I consider myself to have pretty liberal sensibilities -- and I am sticking to them! -- but I would regret missing out on these writers who, despite their right-wing stances, offer us some pretty exciting stories. Stone, in particular, is not only a good story-teller, but also a surprisingly good writer. Some of his descriptions qualify as poetry ... but he does proselytize:
"Here, at the end of my life, I've come to realize that the only reliable law is the law of unintended consequences. This new administration [referring to the Obama administration], for the most part, is neither stupid nor blindly partisan ... although some of the younger staffers at the White House seem to think it clever to act like junkyard dogs, as if political combat were the same as actual combat. But, then, when the young Turks in any new government aren't prating to their elders, they're preening in their shaving mirrors. They all share the same delusions of adequacy. The previous administration persuaded itself that it had the power to impose a kind of Junior-League Republicanism on murderous tribal theocracies. The new one imagines that it can impose the asinine Marcusian sophistries of Norm Chompsky and the Harvard faculty of humanities on the people of America; as if Socialism had not already been tried many times before, only to collapse in ruins -- frequently very bloody ruins. And God only knows what sort of grotesque ideological calliope the next army of enthusiasts will ride in on, horns blatting and banners ablaze. My consolation is that I'll probably not be around when the wheels fall off again."
In his Micah Dalton series, Stone consistently pursues an agenda: The C.I.A. should be allowed to do its job, unencumbered with liberal fetters. He makes a pretty good case for this agenda, showing through Micah Dalton's tribulations how the C.I.A. agents are hampered by government restrictions. In his Micah Dalton series, Stone has Dalton endure some hair-raising, terrifyingly realistic adventures. Don't buy 𝙖𝙣𝙮 of Stone's Micah Dalton audiobooks if graphic descriptions of violence make you queazy.
The narrator of "The Skorpion Directive," Jason Culp, has a slightly odd voice, but very good acting skills. He has many voices and accents at his command to distinguish all the characters from one another. I would recommend "The Skorpion Directive" to anyone who enjoys the Military Thriller genre, with the above-mentioned caveats.
"Set the Night on Fire" will have special meaning to anyone who came of age in 1960s America. For me, it brought back some fond memories, some embarrassment, and some pride. Ms Hellmann has accurately captured the spirit and idealism of those times. With perfect hindsight, we can now see the rightness of our anti-war activism, and the wrongness of some of our methods. Against the backdrop of this activism, "Set the Night on Fire" (the title refers to the Doors' famous song) tells the story of what some of these 1960s youngsters did to voice their opposition to the Vietnam war, and the repercussions of their actions some forty years later. The text refers frequently to the Celtic Knot, which illustrates the interconnectedness of all things in time and space. What we did back then has a lot to do with what is happening now; and what I do now will have unforeseen consequences for someone that I may not even know. In "Set the Night on Fire," the decisions of '60s activists has unintended consequences for their adult children, one of whom must piece together long-buried evidence to save her own life. Ms Hellmann has skillfully crafted an intricate knot, in which many strands come together to solve the mystery, yielding a satisfying denouement. The narrator, Diane Pirone Gelman, has a lovely voice, and does an adequate job of reading this audiobook, but lacks the repertoire of voices and accents to warrant five stars. I recommend "Set the Night on Fire" to all mystery-lovers, especially those who lived through the amazing 1960s. I will certainly be listening to more of Ms Hellmann's audiobooks.
As with all of Daniel Silva's novels, "The Fallen Angel" tells a fascinating story skillfully. However, this twelfth entry in the Gabriel Allon series differs a bit from its predecessors in a few ways. For one thing, Allon -- now in his 60's, although still fit -- has officially retired from his job as assassin for Israel's Mossad. This time, he serves the story more as a detective than a killer, unearthing a sinister connection between Italy's Mafia and Iran's Hezbollah. Secondly, this episode does not arise from -- nor revolve around -- works of art, as do most of the other Gabriel Allon stories. Rather, it generates two intriguing sub-plots: a deadly financial alliance and an archeological secret. Rest assured, Allon is still working as an art restorer -- which he considers his true occupation -- but this time, when he is called away from his current project to dispatch the bad guys, he does so less with bullets than with brain-power. (I think that you will enjoy his cleverly-orchestrated, perfectly-executed plot to kidnap the Iranian ambassador to Germany.) The title of this novel -- "The Fallen Angel" -- has a dual meaning, referring both to the murder-by-falling that initiates Allon's investigation, and to Allon himself -- named after an arch-angel, but reduced to taking out the trash (of the human variety).
I particularly enjoy Gabriel Allon's perhaps unlikely, but still heart-warming relationship with the Catholic pope in many of Silva's novels, including "The Fallen Angel." Daniel Silva, having converted from Catholicism to Judaism, knows whereof he speaks. He writes with great compassion for both religions, demonstrating his deep knowledge of the history and geo-politics of both worlds. In previous novels he has even shown surprising compassion for the Palestinians, and fair-minded understanding of the Palestine/Israel dilemma. In "The Fallen Angel," the bad guys are definitely the Iranian terrorists, aided and abetted by the Mafia.
Female listeners may notice that, with "The Fallen Angel," Silva's previously semi-mysogynist portrayal of his female characters has begun to evolve toward a more feminist awareness. Yes, he is still calling women "girls," but, in fairness, he frequently calls young men "boys," so I guess that kind of balances the scales, right? With each successive novel, now, Silva's female characters are growing more likable and more admirable. Yay!
George Guidall, as always, does a very good job narrating "The Fallen Angel." He has an engaging, mature voice that he modulates with the skill of a good actor. Despite the fact that he is beginning to develop a slightly choppy style of phrasing, I think that he still deserves five stars. I would recommend "The Fallen Angel" to most thriller-lovers, with the proviso that you should first read its predecessors in sequence, for the greatest enjoyment of this audiobook.
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