It is a society that is, officially, a paradise. Superior to the decadent West, Stalin's Soviet Union is a haven for its citizens, providing for all of their needs: education, health care, security. In exchange, all that is required is their hard work, and their loyalty and faith to the Soviet State. But now a murderer is on the loose.
The reviews at the beginning of the section are universally very positive, and I agree with all of them. There may be other readers who don't like the book as much, but to each his own. I have always been interested in Russia, as it is the country of my ancestors. Polar Star, by Martin Cruz Smith, was the first absolutely outstanding historical novel about Russia during WWII, and many others have come along. Mr. Smith and Mr. Boutsikaris are flawless here. Neither tries too hard. The material is so gripping that they do not need to fluff it up with production values, although the little musical snippets seemed like gilding the lily to me. The Stalin era in Russia was by far the most destructive tyranny that the Russian people have ever endured. Mr. Smith describes the perfect insanity of Stalin's rule. In terms of numbers, Stalin's pogroms murdered many times the number of Jews who were put to death by Hitler in the ovens. There can be no exact number, but one can envision a viciousness and inhumanity that defies rational human thought. The protagonist, Leo Demidov, spins through the web of lies and pretend truths, trying to hold onto some principles of his own when the only real strategy is survival. It really is quite a mind-bender to imagine all the horrors that were perpetrated by the Communist Party against the Russian peasants. You can listen to the stories about food stores in which you must wait in three long lines for six to eight hours in order to buy a few rotten groceries: it is just almost impossible to accept that those stories are true. And yet they were. Leo is manipulated by the Party to testify against his own wife, Raisa, whom he loves without reservation. The Party pushes him very hard to call her a spy for the West. In the end he stands firm to his principles, even when his own parents are telling him how "practical" it would be for him to agree to do it. Leo's parents have been living a comfortable life as a result of his Party loyalty. They are merely trying to survive. They actually like Raisa: as it is said, it's nothing personal.
The book can be hard to take at times, because you know that there is little pure fiction in it, and you just don't want to believe that human beings can be so incredibly cruel to each other. But hang in. The book accelerates around Act III, and at that point you are a captive. The invention, the style of writing, the fullness of humanity in the characters, the pure villains Vasily and the "doctors" who inject camphor oil into the bloodstreams of people whom they are torturing: all of these will keep you up at night. I wonder what Mr. Smith will do next. I can't imagine how he could top this.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
It starts with some innocent family fun. Writer Stephen Barrow's divorced wife, involved in a second marriage, has given Barrow custody of their six-year-old daughter, Penny. Father and daughter share a relationship that is tender, poignant, and funny. Their home life in a small upstate New York town is a happy and entirely wholesome one.
It is seldom that I write a review of a book without actually finishing the book. However, in the case of Best Intentions, I will make an exception. Mr. Klempner is a good writer, and the narrator is fair. But the entire, and I do mean entire, premise of the book is laughable, and not in a good way. I know that the author is a former attorney. However, the idea that simply taking a picture of your six-year-old daughter in the bathtub, no matter what posture she strikes, is "sex abuse," is so ridiculous on its face that it makes the rest of the book (I am projecting here, I know), so grossly improbable as to render the book unreadable, IMHO. I live in California, and I have about forty-five years of experience as a forensic and clinical psychologist in the criminal justice system, including some time in the great state of Michigan, and also in the context of federal laws. "Sex abuse" is not what this is. Usually sexual abuse involves some amount of physical touching of the "victim" by the "offender." Statutes like this do not get used to prosecute doting dads who do not have a moment's experience with the criminal justice system. These laws do not apply to a man who is taking family photographs. A prosecutor who ruined people's lives in this way would be voted out of office immediately, as the populace would worry that they themselves might be treated by the man/woman in a similarly insane way. So the ludicrous problem with the law and the justice system personnel being slavishly adherent to every last codicil in it, then contaminates the nature and good sense of the town's population severely. Working on the premise that everyone in the town and in the area in general is a 100% space cadet who cannot think at all, the author thus slips into the indefensible position that every single one of these people is stupid, gullible, easily excitable and extremely eager to blame others no matter what might have happened, no matter what they might think about the incident in question. To use a word that my twenty-five-year old son has recently introduced me to, they aren't people, they're sheeple. Isn't there a single member of the community who will raise his or her voice about this travesty? Really? They are all just unthinking fools? I don't believe that. The moment that the drug store clerk called out "sex abuse," I began to worry about the author's approach to reality. The idea that even the defense attorney, who should have his client's interests at heart, takes the damn "statute" so totally seriously is pathetic. The trial process could take a YEAR? What world are they living in? And he could be imprisoned for FOUR YEARS? Four years in state prison for taking a picture? Come on. A good novel is allowed to stretch the truth, heaven knows, but the readers must be able to suspend disbelief, as the lit people say. I have suspended belief in this book. Obviously I encourage you to use your own God-given good judgment about this book, but my advice is: don't bother. Life is too short to read bad books.
C. J. Box's best-selling Joe Pickett novels have earned him a spot on every serious suspense fan's shortlist of favorites. The tightly constructed Out of Range brings game warden Joe to a new, remote beat in Wyoming's vast countryside to investigate the suspicious death of the previous warden.
This is a terrific book, possibly the best in the series, which is saying something, as I have come to really enjoy these books. The fact that I am coming to the end of the series is sad, indeed. Although there is a certain amount of sameness to each of the adventures, Mr. Box is an excellent writer. As with Craig Johnson in the Walt Longmire series, Mr. Box is a wonderful descriptor of Wyoming and its natural treasures, as well as the not-so-treasured human inhabitants of the state. Lesser authors are sometimes caged in by a successful series. Both of these men, along with the amazing Stuart Kaminsky, can keep the books fresh by introducing new settings, new people and new plots. This book finds Joe in Jackson, once called Jackson Hole. The game warden there, whom Joe knew fairly well, has committed suicide, and Joe has been sent to both cover the territory, which is as big as his own, and also to poke around about the death of Will Jensen. Joe quickly comes to feel that the death was not a suicide. Powerful forces exert strong, corrupt influences on the environment in Jackson. Joe meets a woman named Stella Ennis, who attracts him in an almost overwhelming way. He is only in Jackson briefly, which is clearly by design, as one gets the feeling that a couple of weeks longer would have threatened the bonds of Joe's marriage to Marybeth. Also, Stella disappears, which is no accident, so to speak.
As Joe investigates Will's death, he meets Don Ennis, Stella's husband, who is the developer of a humongous project in the hills above Jackson. It becomes clear to Joe that the project was going to be held up by the objections of Will Jensen, who had strong concerns about disruptions of wildlife migration patterns, and other concerns as well. The heat gets turned up very high as Joe finds himself in grave danger of being trapped in the same web that destroyed Will. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it is excellent. An author once said that it is extremely difficult to write a great ending for a great book. Mr. Box accomplishes that feat here.
David Chandler does his usual fine job. I have no complaints about him, except to say that he is no George Guidall.
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.
I notice that there is a fair amount of disagreement among the reviewers of this book. I guess tastes differ. I enjoyed the book quite a lot, although I'm not going to fall all over myself drooling in praise for it. The plot keeps you involved: there is a horrendous crime that occurs twenty years ago, and then there is a kind of parallel crime in the present. The author moves back and forth between then and now in a herky-jerky way that some people will find annoying, I'm sure. However, I liked it quite a bit, because the characters were interesting and well-drawn; the depiction of small-town Oz is accurate, given my minimal data base in that regard; and the narration is excellent, in my view. I spent a month in Australia at the turn of the century, and my family and I loved the place. The Ozzies are very different from us, and some of those differences are delightful. However, the men, or at least a large number of them, are in many ways creatures of the early twentieth century. Not to condescend to them, but once you get to know a few of them you can see it. The women, by contrast, live fully in the current world, and the contrasts between the genders make for some fascinating relationships. Ms. Harper shows these to us in a number of clever and articulate passages of the book. She is a just plain excellent writer, and this book shows off many of her terrific skills. The ending, for example, is spell-binding, IMHO. It is often extremely hard to write a great ending for a great book. Hang in for the ending, please. I was actually holding my breath.
It takes a bit of doing to get into the book in the beginning. This is because the narrator does a very good Strine (the Australian version of spoken English). If you haven't heard it before you may find it hard on your ears. However, I would urge you to hang in here, too, as the narrator is doing his job extremely well. It is just full of strange sounds to us Yankees, as we sound strange to them, as well. It turns out, though, that Mr. Shanahan is just about as talented a narrator as Ms. Harper is an author. Once you get into the book, perhaps a third of the way through, (plus or minus) you will not be able to put it down. The small town is representative of many small towns all over the place. There are deep, dark secrets that are held for extremely long times, and harsh, erroneous opinions that are held onto with ferocious hostility. It sure is great to be repelled by what you think is awful behavior in a really bad person, don't you think? People can hold onto mistaken bad judgments for decades, and in some places centuries. Think of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Think of the Middle East (or, better yet, don't).
So, I recommend this book highly. Try to look past the small annoyances and you will be rewarded with a terrific novel, full of real people, real passions and a story that will grip you to the end.
This raw and vivid portrait of juvenile detention centers and life on the run catapults John Gilstrap to the forefront of the crime thriller genre. Nathan Bailey is a 12-year-old juvenile-hall orphan with a problem. Covered in blood, he is caught on videotape fleeing from a murder scene. Will the boy evade the police long enough to tell the truth? Or will a hit man kill him before he gets the chance?
This is a great book. I looked at the rest of John Gilstrap's books, and they seem to be about an agent named Graves, who works for the government in some kind of CIA/FBI espionage series of adventures. I don't really like those kind of books. I do like this kind of book. The protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy named Nathan Bailey, who is falsely accused of killing a guard in the "juvenile justice" center where he is being held. The killing is actually pure self-defense, but no one knows that in the beginning of the story. Nathan escapes and goes on the run, thus the title of the book. As Nathan is running, a woman named Denise Carpenter falls into a radio talk show host position, in which she is called The Bitch, a part which is not natural to her, but which she plays with panache. As soon as her program begins, the story of Nathan Bailey becomes news, and people start calling in to her with their ignorant, enraged voices, not interested in hearing the facts of the case but all too eager to be titillated by the idea of a mad, twelve-year-old cop-killing maniac. Soon Nathan himself calls in from one of his hiding places, and very quickly Denise understands the truth. She begins to defend Nathan, and the world gets enraged at her for taking his side. However, she uses the force of her personality and the rightness of the truth to persuade her audience that Nathan is in fact innocent. This is a great story, and you get pulled into it by both by the excellent writing of Mr. Gilstrap and also by the truly captivating voice and talents of the priceless George Guidall. This man has managed via his many talents to embody a number of fictional characters, to the point at which I just cannot imagine any other narrator trying to top him. Walt Longmire is probably the best-known of these. Craig Johnson has developed a huge fan club of people who cannot wait for the next Longmire adventure. The series of books has now been turned into a Netflix TV series, which for once is done with as much skill as the source material. The first TV series that I have really enjoyed since Deadwood.
In any case, Nathan wears out his legs and his stamina, running away from people who want to get him, the most dangerous of whom is a hit man who was hired originally to pay Ricky Harris, the juvenile center guard, to kill Nathan. I am not making the plot sound as entertaining as it is, which means that Mr. Gilstrap is a way better writer than I am. Also, he has about ten hours to pull you in to his story, plus the inimitable Mr. Guidall to portray the entire cast of characters. The ending of the book is a little weak, as another reviewer remarks, but that is about the only criticism that I can make. Read this book. I predict that you will lose sleep, as I have, and that you will enjoy this adventure immensely.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award-winning "Old Indian Trick". This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnson’s best-selling, award-winning novels and the A&E hit series Longmire. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, fans rejoiced when Johnson sent out a new short story featuring an episode in Walt’s life that doesn’t appear in the novels; over the years, many have asked why they can’t buy the stories in book form.
For all of my adult life I felt that T.C. Boyle was the American Master of the short story. He certainly is the most prolific writer, but in these stories Craig Johnson shows us that he can do wonderful things with the form as well. Not all of them are terrific, of course, but several are just so fabulous that I will remember them forever. Messenger, for example, is astounding. It is so funny that I gave myself the hiccups. The story is about Walt, Bear and Vic rescuing a great horned owl from an outhouse. I won't spoil it for you, but it is unimaginably funny and wise and surprising as well.
OTOH, the story about the old woman who believes that Walt is the Second Coming: this is so tender and moving, and also surprising. Walt's unique abilities to empathize with so many people who suffer in their lives: I really can't think of another fictional character who embodies these, and other traits in so vivid a fashion. Also, the story about the woman who has walked away from a psychiatric institution is yet another example of Walt's sensitivity to people who are in distress. Further, the relationships that he has, particularly but not exclusively with Vic and Bear, are layered, full of love and respect and solid as bedrock.
I may be going on a bit here, but I am fine with that, because few author/narrator combinations work as masterfully as these two men. One of the most prolific reviewers (Jim the Impatient) says that George is a national treasure. That is bang-on. It is impossible to imagine anyone else voicing these characters. What virtuosity!
Having now read all of the books in the series is bittersweet indeed. I wonder how long Mr. Johnson is going to be able to do this. I truly hope it's for a very long time. These books are the ultimate in time well spent.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Wyoming's new governor isn't sure what to make of Joe Pickett, but he has a job for him that is extremely delicate. A prominent female British executive never came home from the high-end guest ranch she was visiting, and the British Embassy is pressing hard. Pickett knows that happens sometimes - these ranches are stocked with handsome young cowboys, and "ranch romances" aren't uncommon. But no sign of her months after she vanished? That suggests something else.
Joe and Nate have multiple, wild, death-defying adventures all over the state of Wyoming! And Marybeth gets to stay home and do research on the web! What's wrong with this picture?
The 18th book in the Joe Pickett series is full of C.J. Box's usual creativity. Truly, Joe and Nate are all over the place, defying the governor, tracking down a British celebrity who has disappeared from sight, solving the murders of an unknown number of eagles, discovering the extent of the largest wind farm in the world in the mountains of Wyoming, and on and on. Typical Western characters populate the usual small towns, with all their quirkiness on view. Sheridan gets a job in one of the fanciest dude ranches anywhere, and she gets involved with the lead cowboy, whose name is -are you ready? Lance! CJ has never been much for symbols. As if to make it more obvious and lowdown, so to speak, two of the grungiest farriers (horse couturiers) in the entire Wild, Wild West irritate Sheridan by calling him "Lance Romance!" Are we having fun yet?
I'll be serious. The book is once again delightful. We have come to know the entire Pickett clan very well, and when Nate Romanowski shows up the family is complete. Nate is the prototypical John Wayne-like man of few words, who packs the most ferocious handgun in recorded history. It is nigh-on impossible to keep the characters and/or the plots straight. Mr. Box manages to keep us turning page after page (how does that work in an audiobook?) while the adventures just fly by. The descriptions of winter are just fascinating. Snow piles up in gigantic piles as big as houses. Temperatures drop to the point at which icicles form in Joe's nose. Lucy sings beautifully at a high school play. Honestly, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. How Mr. Box manages to keep all of this straight is anybody's guess. I stopped trying after a while and just went along for the ride. It's a lot of fun, even if it is beginning to get the slightest bit repetitive. After so many books, this would be hard to avoid. I recommend basically all of these books. Fun is to be had.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Swan Peak finds Detective Robicheaux far from his New Iberia roots, attempting to relax in the untouched wilderness of rural Montana. He, his wife, and his buddy Clete Purcell have retreated to stay at an old friend's ranch, hoping to spend their days fishing and enjoying their distance from the harsh, gritty landscape of Louisiana post-Katrina.
Reader/reviewer Deborah from Shallotte, NC does such a perfect job on this book that I would defer to her. Anyone who wants to read brief literary criticism at its finest should not miss her review. I feel like I can hardly add to what she says, but I will say a bit that reflects my own views.
Mr. Burke wrote this book in 2008, ten years ago. In my view he was at his absolute peak at that time. A lot of the subsequent Montana/Texas books are noticeably inferior, IMHO, due to his increasing preoccupation with violence for its own sake, a little bit like Sam Peckinpah once did in the movies (if you know that name, have a cocktail on me). Burke still has his remarkable skills: describing the fine details of the location he is in with such beautiful, lush phrases that you can almost smell the surroundings. People have said that he is our greatest living novelist, and his work at this time fully justifies those laurels. The plots remain similar, and his preoccupation with evil in the human soul will never get extinguished. Dave and Clete's ferocious memories/flashbacks of Viet Nam and Cambodia are still as vivid for them as if the time were the 1960s. The nightmares, the drinking, Clete's explosive need to do violence and break laws, and other things, these traumas underlie the thoughts and feelings of both men almost constantly. It is just about the weirdest juxtaposition, between Viet Nam and the gorgeous location descriptions, that I just have to accept that that is what makes up the man. I do hope that Mr. Burke as a person is not troubled by alcoholism, or that he beat those demons decades ago. If that is true, then redemption is truly real, not a cheap Hollywood fantasy that they are continually selling.
The characters who fascinate him, like Troyce Nix and the satanic Wellstone brothers and Jimmy Dale, and Candace Sweeney? (I am losing their last names: seventy is just down the track): these people are so damaged by life that Burke shows us all the way through into their souls. He knows these people personally, even if they do arise from his astounding creative force. The suspense in this book is remarkable: at the end I really did, almost, think that they were going to go into the Wellstone's pit. Even though I knew that the good guys must reappear. The only thing that was a clang for me in the entire book was the idea that Clete and Alicia Rosenkrantz (again, I am losing the names) would get together. The two seem so galactically distant from each other that their coming together, so to speak, defies common sense. But, hey, at this point Mr. Burke can do any damn thing he wants to do. So, I salute and respect him. He is now eighty-one years old, and I hope he keeps writing for another decade. My hat is off.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon - the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him "the bitter neighbor from hell". But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness.
I have read the overwhelmingly positive reviews. And I truly loved Beartown, one of the most wonderful books I have read in a very long time. So, I was really looking forward to A Man Called Ove. And for the beginning perhaps one-third of the book, I really enjoyed it. It was funny. Funny is hard, as someone has said. Ove was an amusing curmudgeon, and I initially enjoyed his quirky personality. But the story flagged quite a bit, IMHO, about halfway through, and I gave up on it at about the two-thirds point, when I realized that I was just tolerating it, not enjoying it, and not even smiling, much less LOL, as I had in the beginning. This is an unusual experience for me, particularly given that I see hundreds and hundreds of people loving the book, calling it the best book ever, etc. What can I say. Tastes differ. I found the neighborly couple aggravating and totally unfunny, not endearing at all. Ove's repeated failures at killing himself: this is just not enjoyable to me. Perhaps it's because I am a psychologist: depression is the unfunniest thing on earth, and suicide is not enjoyable reading. It is the last stop in the search for any kind of meaning in life, the belief that somehow escaping life will be an improvement? Not. Not funny. Not entertaining. Not what I want to read about when I am relaxing and enjoying my favorite hobby, listening to audiobooks. No need to say more. If this is the thing for you, then enjoy it.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car drove up their street. One boy got in the car, two did not, and something terrible happened - something that ended their friendship and changed the boys forever. Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay - demons that urge him to do horrific things. When Jimmy's daughter is murdered, Sean is assigned to the case.
No less a person than James Lee Burke, who is now eighty-one and is the dean of American crime novelists, has said that Mystic River is one of the best books of its kind ever written (at least I know from whom to crib my opinions). Certainly reasonable people can differ, but in this case I feel that criticizing a book of this stature is risky business, indeed. Every aspect of the work of both Lehane and Brick is stunning here. As to the reviewer who said that he knew "whodunnit" by the end of Chapter 4: Sir, I challenge you to a duel. Read it again.
One complaint that is warranted, in my view, is the total absence of humor. I guess one can argue that the subject matter of the book is so serious that humor would be misplaced. However, I have to admit that the books that star Kenzie and Gennaro are a lot more fun. The humor, the jokes flying between the partners, the sizzling sexual tension in whatever room they happen to be: that is great fun stuff. There is none of that here.
The catastrophic event that sets up the whole book occurs at the end of the first chapter, and almost everything else that post-dates that horrible tragedy has roots in the car that drives Dave Boyle away. Dave and Sean Levine and Jimmy Marcus, childhood chums growing up in suburban Boston, grow up to adulthood through the book: they go to school, one goes to prison, one gets divorced, children are born, one is murdered: just regular suburban lives, I guess. Families get larger with the birth of children, and the Flats neighborhood gets fleshed out in carefully imagined ways, a bit more detailed than the slightly better-off Point, on the other side of the tracks. The book picks up narrative power as it goes along. We see deeply inside a couple of marriages, the kind of thing which is not usually tackled by lesser authors in this genre. Lehane writes about people and the relationships between and among them with grace and insight and understanding of the love and the aggression driving each one forward. Secrets are kept, several of them of catastrophic importance. We become deeply involved in the marriage of Jimmy and Annabeth, and also of Dave and Celeste, and we get to know the lives of their kids. Fatherhood particularly is examined with a microscope. As in lots of "cops and robbers" books, the fine grey lines defining the boundaries between the "good" guys and the "bad" guys is often almost impossible to locate.
In my view Mr. Lehane is up there among the finest of American crime writers. If you are at all interested in reading the work of his companions in this elite group, I would recommend Mr. Burke, of course, plus Tom Perry, Tim Hallinan, Robert Crais (the funniest of them, hands down) and John Lescroart. Not all of those guys will ring your bell each time out, but there is a lot of truly great stuff there. Checkitout.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful