ALICE’S ISLAND by Daniel Sanchez Arelvalo

April 21, 2019

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A beautifully written story of great loss, the seeking of redemption and eventually finding of one’s self.

Alice Dupont is a happily married woman enjoying life with her adoring husband Chris. It is obvious that each has found the perfect mate in the other. They have one young daughter and Alice pregnant with another child. Chris had founded a small business building tennis courts which has become successful enough possibly due to his background of playing tennis on a semi professional basis. His work takes him to sites around his home area in getting business. He has always kept in close touch with Alice while traveling and made it obvious that it is her that he thinks about.

Suddenly Alice’s world comes crashing down on her head when she receives a dreaded call from the police that Chris has been severely injured in an auto crash. She rushes to the hospital that he is in but unfortunately only in time to learn that he has passed away from his injuries. After the funeral Alice decides that in order to find some sort of closure she has to learn about the project he has been working on when killed. When she finds that the accident occurred several hundred miles away from where he was scheduled to be Alice decides to discover where he actually was and what he was doing. Determination is made that Chris was on an island near Nantucket in Massachusetts. Made independent by a hefty insurance settlement Alice moves to that island and begins her search for Chris’ reason to be there and if he had been there more than once.

The story of her search and her experiences in befriending other residents of the island comprise the major part of the novel. There is no horror to the story and one that follows Alice’s closure as well as that of several of the island’s residents. Written originally in Spanish and later translated into English, Sanchez Arelvalo’s novel reaches a level of beauty that does captivate the reader. The ending is well done and an adventure into a level of prose that is a pleasure to find and certainly indicative of both a very skilled author and a translator that has complete understanding of the nuances of both English and Spanish. I trust that we will see additional works by the author translated into English for our great enjoyment.

4/19 Paul Lane

ALICE’S ISLAND by Daniel Sanchez Arelvalo. Atria Books (April 16, 2019). ISBN 978-1501171956. 400p.

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THE DEPARTMENT OF SENSITIVE CRIMES by Alexander McCall Smith

April 17, 2019

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A Detective Varg Novel, Book 1

The novel is set in Malmo, Sweden and describes the activities and antics of a small group of policemen that have been set up to handle sensitive crimes that are strange and different. It is wrapped around a series of vignettes that are handled by the group.

Smith brings to bear a droll sense of humor that takes situations and shapes their form via a definite tongue in cheek delivery. No murder, no bank holdups, no mob beatings but a series of “crimes” adroitly handled by the members of the squad.

There is a case of someone stabbing another person in the knee. Why? What caused this heinous crime? A lonely girl trying to impress other girls who have boyfriends makes up a boyfriend via taking a selfie with a young man she meets on the street. Then in order not to produce him, tells a tale of him moving to a facility at the north pole. Problem is the police work on the premise that he was murdered and the girl making him up is the murderer.

Finally, an investigation is requested by a police executive into the weird goings on at a hotel that his cousin owns. These happenings are causing the hotel to begin failing. This one leads via a circuitous route into investigations of a werewolf being the cause of what is going on at the hotel.

A free and easy read. The characters are likable with a dedicated man in charge. One woman working for the group who is more than a little in love with Ulf (the man in charge of the group). Carl who loves filling out paperwork and can sit and do that all day, and Erik whose main interest in life is fly fishing. While the setting is in Sweden the group can exist anywhere and do supply a great deal of fun in a nice departure from more serious police procedural novels. I certainly look forward to learning about future escapades of this pleasant group of policemen.

4/19 Paul Lane

THE DEPARTMENT OF SENSITIVE CRIMES by Alexander McCall Smith.  Pantheon (April 16, 2019). ISBN 978-1524748210. 240p.

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SECOND LIVES by P. D. Cacek

April 14, 2019

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Fiction Without Frontiers

A quick look at Cacek’s latest book could possibly deem it a horror story. [Especially if you like to judge a book by its cover. BookBitch.] It deals with possession by the essence of a person now dead of the body of another person in the process of passing away. Certainly one of the major themes of literature devoted to horror stories. This is very far from the reality of what is a fascinating book actually devoted to a brilliant treatment of human nature under great stress.

The beginning section covers the deaths of four people of different ages and in different years. There is a potential suffragette attending a meeting in the early part of the twentieth century and killed by a man completely opposed to the concept of women’s rights. Another is a little boy, with another a 16 year old girl. The final individual is a man dying from the effects of dementia.

The next phase of the novel involves those individuals in the process of dying that are possessed by the spirits of the first four. A doctor views the people being “resurrected” by the new life process coincidentally in the same hospital and about the same time. He indicates to the families of those expected to pass away that this situation has occurred before although not very a very common one. It is in this stage of the book that Cacek turns an interesting novel into one that becomes a fascinating study of human nature.

First, how do the previously dead persons react to finding themselves not only alive again, but in a different body than they had. Also, the reactions of the families of those expected to die when finding that their loved one is recovering, but is not the same person that had been brought to the hospital with the expectation of imminent death. And if their relationship is still the same or if previously families, if found have those rights.

The author has successfully written a powerful study of what could happen to all concerned if the postulated situation could ever happen. Human nature is of course, based on normal progression and ending of life at a certain point with no further contact with the decadent. There is no speculation of what happens normally after death as this is not germane to the described events. Very well done.

4/19 Paul Lane

SECOND LIVES by P. D. Cacek. FLAME TREE PRESS; New edition (April 11, 2019). ISBN 978-1787581593. 304p.

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THE KOREAN WOMAN by John Altman

April 11, 2019

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Altman presents an extremely well planned and written novel about a sleeper spy living in the United States on behalf of the regime of North Korea.

The stark difference in ideas and life between the two countries has never been better presented than in this book. Song Sun Young was born in North Korea. She grew up in an environment of repression, semi-starvation and with even the slightest deviation from proscribed activity, punishment by death. In spite of this, Song has tried several times to escape along with her brother to South Korea. The last attempt meets with capture, but instead of executing her the government recognizes her intelligence and initiates a program to prepare her to become a mole; i.e. a sleeper agent in the United States.

Fast forwarding from her insertion into the U.S., Song is married to an American whom she loves and two children with him that are her pride and joy. But after seven years of this happy life she is called by North Korea to start the work she was trained for. Song’s brother has been held over her head with the threat that if she does not do as required he will be killed and she has no choice but to follow orders.

Song is not aware that the CIA knows of her and follows her as she moves forward with her mission for North Korea. Working with the CIA is Dalia Artzi a retired Israeli operative that Altman has used in other novels. The reader follows the counter actions of the CIA through the thinking of Dalia while working with them.

The culmination of the novel is a crisis that may lead to very unforeseen consequences and if you haven’t slept while reading the first part, what is happening will keep your eyelids open even wider. A very well done and well plotted adventure into international politics and conflict between nations.

4/19 Paul Lane

THE KOREAN WOMAN by John Altman. Blackstone Publishing; Unabridged edition (April 9, 2019). ISBN 978-1470826970. 272p.

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THE EIGHTH SISTER by Robert Dugoni

April 9, 2019

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Dugoni is a well published author with a great many novels to his credit already. He normally writes utilizing one or several characters appearing in previous novels but has done just a few standalone books. “The Eighth Sister” is one of these although it does feature some characters from other novels.

Charles Jenkins is a retired CIA employee currently living on a farm he owns in Washington State. He’s happily married with one son and another child on the way. He is not a young man, he’s in his sixties but in good shape. He’s still at an age that most people will retire. He and his wife own a security consulting business with one very large customer that is expanding internationally and representing a good steady and growing income.

Suddenly the customer begins paying slowly, indicating cash flow problems due to its rapid expansion but forcing Charles to balk on settling his own businesses debts. This naturally impedes progress since his suppliers begin slowing down the credit extended to him.

Out of the blue, his ex-supervisor comes to visit him with a proposal. Charles has not seen him since they worked together in Mexico City in the 1960s. The CIA would like to utilize a person with Charles’ capabilities, which include speaking fluent Russian as well as experience operating for the organization. A fee is negotiated with the mission being to look into a situation in which a group called the “The Seven Sisters” currently operating in Russia as spies for the U.S. are being assassinated. Jenkins is told to contact an Eighth Sister in Moscow who remains unknown and is the only person that could be of help in locating the other seven women in order to get them out of Russia.

Charles’ adventures in Russia supply the bulk of the action of the novel. Dugoni is familiar with the territory he describes as the scene of Jenkins’ search both upon arrival and when he is discovered and chased by a brilliant Russian intelligence officer through the country as well as later in Turkey.

Robert Dugoni’s handling of Jenkins as the principal character is the highlight of this novel. Again, Charles is in good condition, but in his sixties and not in the shape he was in when he worked in Mexico for the CIA. He is also worried as any husband and father would be about this job causing problems for his pregnant wife and their son as well as the developing fetus soon to be born. His thoughts, feelings and his actions reflect those of a capable individual that is not in the prime condition necessary to do what he is called upon to do but forces himself to “soldier” on.

The book is a fascinating read with conditions and backgrounds brilliantly described with the reader immersed in the book and not able to put it down until completed. Very well done.

4/19 Paul Lanes

THE EIGHTH SISTER by Robert Dugoni. Thomas & Mercer (April 9, 2019). ISBN 978-1503903036. 465p.

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DIARY OF A DEAD MAN ON LEAVE by David Downing

April 6, 2019

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Downing has made his literary reputation with novels mainly set in Europe during the period of World War I and approximately to the second world war. His knowledge of actual events and circumstances is prodigious gained obviously through very painstaking research. The current book is no exception and is set in the Germany of the late 1930s during the period when Hitler was consolidating power over his people.

Josef Hoffman is a man that was born in the German city of Hamm and was old enough to serve in the first world war fighting for Germany. After the war was over he left his country living in Latin America and becoming an agent for the Soviet Communist party. His job was to organize sympathizers of the Communist doctrine into groups working to instill their beliefs into the general population of their country.

When Josef arrived in Hamm he took a room in a boarding house owned by a woman with two sons living with her. Josef’s work is described with vivid details of the events surrounding his efforts as well as bringing to life residents of the boarding house. Hitler has put unworkable ideas into practice and it is becoming evident that the only way he can pull Germany out of the morass it is in is with a major war. At the same time Hitler has selected scapegoats to blame economic conditions on: the main ones are the Jews living in Germany as well as in countries that are subjects of the projected war. Josef is writing a diary delineating the events of the time that he is working in Germany. He voices the opinions that the horrors inflicted by Hitler’s Nazi party go beyond anything that is civilized and humane.

Reading this book takes the reader completely into a world that is alien to those hearing about it today. It is a fascinating read; one that brings up a picture of a world turned on it’s axis and showing a side of human beings that have found they need to accept the unthinkable if they are to survive the new world that has evolved around them. A Gestapo has been formed with the function of arresting and punishing anyone that is against the regime. Anyone can cause someone to be arrested by merely denouncing them. People are guilty as charged with almost no way to prove that their arrest was without grounds.

This is a novel that does deserve attention not only for a fascinating story but as a warning that if people don’t watch their governments those entities can evolve into repressive horrors. A very powerful read and of course, one that will cause sleeplessness until the book is finished.

4/19 Paul Lanes

DIARY OF A DEAD MAN ON LEAVE by David Downing. Soho Crime (April 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1616958435. 312p.

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THE GHOST MANUSCRIPT by Kris Frieswick

April 4, 2019

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Carys Jones has a very unusual profession. She makes her living authenticating rare books for clients like museums, galleries, and wealthy collectors that can afford the high costs of establishing authenticity of the item or items they are interested in.

We meet her at the moment that her largest current customer is committed to an insane asylum. He makes a deal with Carys to authenticate a book and also follow it’s printed clues to a destination. In return he offers her his entire collection of rare books worth millions if she will successfully find the item that the book provides clues for. The veritable offer that cannot be refused sets Carys off on the adventure of a lifetime.

The item being sought is a tomb. Of whom is a find of all time and if excavated could change the course of history, possibly reshape national boundaries, and revamp all modern thought about the historic past. The estimated carbon dating for the writing of the book places it about the middle of the sixth century A.D. The writer is a monk that did live at that time, residing in a section of what is currently Wales.

The path to solving the puzzle delineated by the manuscript lies in a trip to Wales. Carys goes there, finds a romance with a young Welshman who helps her and also some confrontations with the ghost of the Monk that wrote the book.

To remove the book from the possibility of becoming a ghost story Frieswick offers an explanation of the spectral appearances that may be what is happening to Carys. Could be, but the ghost’s appearances does become important to several events depicted. The reader will be able to decide on their own which explanation is valid.

When it develops that the tomb in question is actually in the New World the action moves to the Cape Cod area of the United States. The finale of the novel becomes a bit of a spoiler when it develops into something that while a surprise, doesn’t do justice to the the crafting of the story. It is as if Frieswick found she was at the end of the main great idea and reached out for the first ending available. In spite of this I must indicate that future books by the author will be sought by me with a good deal of anticipation.

4/19 Paul Lane

THE GHOST MANUSCRIPT by Kris Frieswick.  Post Hill Press (April 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1642930245. 432p.

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CLOSER THAN YOU THINK by Darren O’Sullivan

April 3, 2019

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Claire Moore is living a half life, caught up in the terror of surviving the attack of a serial killer that did succeed in killing her husband 10 years prior to the story’s opening. She managed to save her own life at the cost of major injuries to both her arms and legs due to her struggles to escape the killer’s rage. She is afraid to go out, terrified of being alone in her own home, and jumping at shadows. O’Sullivan’s depiction of Claire and her overwhelming phobia is a masterpiece of description of what does happen to a person subjected to terror, surviving it but completely traumatized by what has happened to her.

Trying to help her face life, her mother and stepfather have subjected themselves to staying within beck and call of her and jumping to her rescue when Claire imagines something is threatening her. At the point the story begins, her mother and stepfather have succeeded in convincing Claire to try meeting single men and attempting to reenter normal interaction between normal people. She also has a following of a large group of people that have formed a support group in order to help her regain normalcy.

Thanks to her mother’s efforts, Claire meets a man that she finds herself attracted to, allowing herself to draw closer to him and developing the thoughts of a normalized life together. In the background of her attempts at coming back to social interaction are the actions of a serial killer that is copying the style of the man that killed Claire’s husband and attacked her, but who subsequently died in prison. She certainly imagines that the new copycat killer will go after her as a logical extension of what happened in the past.

The reader is drawn to Claire, connects to her thoughts and actions and is pulled into the novel by a very gifted author that has obviously postulated and successfully described a human being enduring the most emotionally troubled situation that can befall anyone. The ending is one that follows the actions of the story but becomes a part that probably won’t please everyone but is logical and could be admitted as the end. A well done story and one that will remain with the reader for a long time after completing the book.

NOTE: eBook or digital audiobook only.

4/19 Paul Lane

CLOSER THAN YOU THINK by Darren O’Sullivan. HQ Digital (March 15, 2019). ASIN B07HCV9PSB. 277p.

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THE VOLUNTEER by Salvatore Scibona

March 28, 2019

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The novel by Scibona is a difficult one to understand and really enjoy. The author utilizes an almost stream of consciousness writing style which I must indicate does not work for this novel.

It touches on four generations of men; their pathways through life and the horrors of the war in Vietnam as it affects one of them. Vollie Frade is met at a point where almost on a whim to escape a bad home situation enlists in the Marine Corps. This is just in time to be sent to Vietnam where he witnesses the horrors of that war. On a second tour he is captured in Cambodia where American forces are not supposed to be. He is held in horrible conditions in prison with two other men and becomes the only survivor to escape and return home. This imprisonment does affect him through the remainder of his life.

In a similarity to Winston Groom’s novel “Forrest Gump” major events around the world are depicted during the course of the story and integrated into the story line. Unfortunately, I found that I could not retain an interest in the book due to the myriad of shifts and characters introduced with little or no interconnection.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE VOLUNTEER by Salvatore Scibona. Penguin Press (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0525558521. 432p.

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THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND by Karen Hamilton

March 27, 2019

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This is Hamilton’s first published book and it is an interesting and readable opener. Her aim is to tell the story of a young woman whose mind is warped due to a traumatic experience that happened to her when she was ten years old. The events are narrated by Juliette in their entirety and it is her thoughts and ideas that are featured in the story.

The book begins with a man that Juliette has been with for several months telling her that their affair is over and that she must leave the apartment they share. It is Juliette’s reaction to this decision by Nathan, the man she was living with, that begins the tale and establishes the direction of events. Juliette decides that this decision is the wrong one for Nathan and begins a plan to retake him. He is an airline pilot, and she goes as far as getting a job as a cabin attendant with the same airline he works for. Successful at this Juliette sets up meetings with Nathan, moves to get rid of the new girlfriend he is seeing, and manipulates events to make sure that she gets her way.

The picture of Juliette as a person with a God complex is quite well done by the author and very well paints her as someone that cannot come to grips with any situation in which she is not correct in her own actions. The reader is pointed towards the bad that other individuals do to her and how Juliette must work hard to turn the situation around to make sure she does get her way.

The novel makes for a compelling read with one detracting feature. The front piece outline indicates that there is a surprise ending in store for the reader. Sort of yes, but underwhelming over all and more than a minor detraction and does leave the reader more than a little unsatisfied.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND by Karen Hamilton. Graydon House; Original edition (March 26, 2019). ISBN 978-1525831508. 352p.

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