Gruber's stories are all superficially different from each other. Characters, story locales and threads are, with a single exception, not repeated. What they all have in common is some supernatural overlay that ranges from obvious to subtle. What they also have in common is good writing. I have never read a book I enjoyed where the author could not handle dialogue. Gruber can. In this book he weaves together a wide variety of characters in a tangled plot of the full range of human qualities and foibles: love, guilt, revenge, hope, passion, and the quest to give meaning to one's life. The story takes place within the drug cartel wars of western Mexico into which the protagonist injects himself. It was thoroughly enjoyable. The narrator is superb. He is quite clearly fluent in Spanish, moves easily among male and female voices and, in the lead character sounds exactly like George Clooney.
That I made it about halfway through is a testament to my determination. The last straw was a reference to the "Serbian Mafia" stealing historical artifacts. It's an absolutely preposterous story that would be hard enough to digest if the writing was good. But it's horrid. Here's the plot: there's a scavenger hunt for artifacts surrounding the Norse legend of Odin. The hunt is being carried out by small armies of heavily armed psychopaths. And what awaits the winner of the hunt? The opportunity to end the world. The book is cliche ridden, and the dialogue is laughable (At least at first. Then it made me wince.) As for the narration, the voice of the female lead sounds like a bad imitation of Jerry Lewis.
I think James Lee Burke is in a very small category of elite contemporary fiction writers with the likes of Adrian McKinty, Michael Gruber, and Nelson DeMille. There's nothing about this effort that makes me think differently. The writing is excellent. The story is good. The characters are mostly what I've come to expect from this author. And Will Patton is the ideal choice to narrate James Lee Burke. He does not disappoint.
Still, Burke's books tend to be very dark, peppered with philosophical ruminations about the essence and manifestations of evil. So it was with this one. What was missing for me was the comic relief from the constant barrage of depressing events, recollections, and story twists that a character like Cletus provides in the Dave Robicheaux series.
This was the best courtroom drama I've listened to or read since the old Richard North Patterson books. The author is clearly a skilled and experienced trial lawyer. The narrator has quite a range of voices and does an excellent job. The only reason I didn't give the story 5 stars is that I felt there was a huge hole in the explanation tying things up at the end. I'd lay it out, but that might spoil things for other listeners, and it doesn't affect my recommendation.
I'm a Turow fan. He's a superb storyteller and writes knowledgeably about the law and lawyers. I feel like I personally know most of his characters. But I would do my best not to know the central figure in this book (I just finished it and I can't even remember his name). This is a fine story, well told. The narration is very good. But I could not stand the protagonist. I had to listen to hours (no exaggeration) of this guy whining about what a loser he is in all areas of his life. In real life, a guy like this would send me running inside 20 minutes. Excuse me, I have some important sleeping to do. If he were actually a colleague of mine, I would hide every time I saw him coming at me in the hallway.
Michael Lewis is a great story teller. He is a former Wall Street bond trader. He wrote books on the financial crisis and one you may have heard of, "Money Ball". This book confirms everything you ever suspected about Wall Street. They consist of a f***ing den of thieves. It's disgusting.
Since around 2007 every trade you've made, or your pension fund has made, or whatever mutual fund you're in has been robbed. No fooling. What happens is when you decide to make a buy and click the button, computers receive the information in microseconds and buy the stock ahead of you and then sell it back to you in a few more microseconds at a higher price. Ever wonder, like I did, why you were getting such bad fills?
So one brilliant guy from Canada figures it out. He gives up a $2 million a year job to form a new stock exchange (the IEX) because it's the right thing to do. When's the last time you heard that as a motive? Read/listen to it and act on it in your own best interest.
The 3 stars on performance is just that there's not a lot for the narrator to do, except read. Also if you are offended by obscene language, be prepared to hear it. Even if you feel that way, by the end of the book, you will be using it.
I really enjoyed the opening of the book and was disappointed with the ending. The author takes on a hot button issue: the U.S. position on the Treaty of Rome and the recognition of the International Criminal Court to try war crimes. The situation he creates is one where a large number of civilians are killed by U.S. personnel who are "only following orders." There is a serious debate among the characters on the position of the USA (which is to reject the treaty). It actually is a debate. This is not one of those books where the author constructs a story around his personal view.
But here's the rub. The book builds towards a trial. And I got to expect a Richard North Patterson courtroom battle. But the story descends into a Stephen Segall movie. It left me wanting.
I love this man's work. His two trilogies are as good a body of work as any contemporary author. Plot, characters, dialogue, metaphors, even soliloquies are excellent. I've read both trilogies and all the stand alone thrillers. There's not one I wouldn't recommend, or listen to again. And Gerard Doyle is a remarkable talent. No accent is beyond his ability. Female voices, no problem.
So why the 4 stars? Not because the writing is flawed. Honestly, this is as good as it gets. But, there's always a "but" isn't there? This is the 3rd book of a trilogy. I expected some closure for the main character. There was at the end of the Death trilogy. That satisfaction is missing here. The trilogy just ends, sort of fizzles. It's like a chapter is missing. Maybe I expect too much.
I thoroughly enjoy most Grisham books. This one, not so much. First, he leaves his area of expertise, law, for espionage. Second, and for the first time I can remember, I really did not care what happened to the main character. Third, the book bogs down with Italian lessons. I got the feeling he wrote it so he could deduct the cost of learning the language.
The basis for the plot is preposterous. If you don't slap your forehead and yell "What??" when it's finally revealed, you just aren't paying attention. It reads as though it was cobbled together the weekend before a deadline in a freshman composition class. The characters are 2 dimensional and the story line is riddled with inconsistencies and improbabilities, not the least of which concerns the photo around which this whole mess pivots. It was taken by a professional nearly 50 years ago at one of the most famous sporting events in history. It was chosen by the photographer as part of an exhibit. Yet, for the story to gain any traction, the reader must believe that only one copy has made its way into the hands of someone other than the photographer. As for the narrator, imagine James Earl Jones heavily overdosed on quaaludes.
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