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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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 CHAOS FUNCTION by Jack Skillingstead

March 23, 2019

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The author has combined a great deal of action with an interesting scenario right out of the world of Science Fiction giving his readers a very engrossing novel.

The story begins with Olivia Nikitas, a very successful war correspondent, in the midst of covering the civil war in Syria. She is accompanied by Brian, an AID worker and the man that she has found love with. While they are covering a battle in Aleppo Brian is killed with Olivia dragging him back into a chamber in a building adjacent to the area they had been covering. In a reverie experienced by Olivia traumatized by Brian’s death conditions change and it looks like her lover was only wounded.

The Science Fiction part comes across when returning to the United States Olivia is kidnapped by a group claiming to be guardians of a machine that allows conditions in the world to be changed. And that is why she experiences the shift from Brian dying and than still alive but wounded. Olivia has received the power to operate the machine from the individual that had it but was killed during the same time and place that Brian died in. She learns that she is the first woman to have this power during the many centuries that it has been utilized.

Escaping from the group with the help of two of their members Olivia uses the benefits of the machine tied to her mental ability to use it to change conditions in the world. Unfortunately, the new conditions created by her allow the spread of a man made epidemic of smallpox which kills off millions around the world. She realizes that her desire to keep Brian alive has forced the spread of the disease to take effect due to conditions created by Olivia’s machinations of world conditions.

The combination of circumstances involving a great deal of action with an interesting twist will provide a fascinating experience for the reader making the awaiting of future books by  Skillingstead a done deal.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE CHAOS FUNCTION by Jack Skillingstead.  John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 19, 2019). ISBN 978-1328526151. 304p.

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INSPECTION by Josh Malerman

March 19, 2019

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Malerman has the wonderful ability to deliver exciting books with “different” plots for his readers. Inspection is no exception to this rule.

At the beginning the reader will fully be invested in the idea that it is a situation existing in a future when “Big Brother” is watching every move made by the residents of their country. This is not the case. It is set in a present time when a radical deviation from the norm has been set up by wealthy people interested in proving a point they are sure of.

Two separate schools have been built in a forest location very far from prying eyes. One is an institution populated only by boys with no females around, and the other by girls with no males around. Each has existed for years with no contact with the outside world. The children, as they are, have no nouns in their language that lead to the realization that there is an opposite sex. They have been given the names only of the letters of the alphabet and told that they developed on special trees and taken off when ready to survive on their own.

The head of the boys unit is known as D.A.D. with the girls’ supervisor M.O.M. The children are being trained with advanced courses in the arts and sciences with the thinking that left without the distraction of sex they will not be subjected to the strains that normally exist with the interaction between men and women. They will, therefore develop into geniuses and make contributions to mankind beyond the normality of other groups growing up in regular circumstances.

The story moves between the boy “J” and the girl “K” as they both independently begin questioning their supervision and the constraints of their sheltered existences. The ending is a completely logical one given the circumstances as developed and complete an extremely engrossing novel. Several sleepless, but rewarding, nights are in store for the reader as they are drawn into the world created by the author. Very well done.

3/19 Paul Lane

INSPECTION by Josh Malerman. Del Rey (March 19, 2019). ISBN 978-1524796990 400p.

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BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward

March 15, 2019

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One can say that this book is a wonderful love story, but it is a novel far above the recounting of a romance. It is a story that moves through various twists and turns granting the mesmerized reader a good deal of sleepless moments while glued to the pages.

Maddie (Madeline) and Ian’s love story begins when she is in a position overseas and visits a friend of hers in a nearby country. At a party she meets Ian who is a professional soldier in the British army. He is currently part of a detachment guarding diplomats stationed at embassies in that country. She falls for him, and he for her but it takes a period of 16 years for the two to finally marry and settle in Maddie’s home state of Kansas. Their union produces a beautiful son named Charlie loved by both in a marriage that seems very successful.

Things change when Maddie suffers an accident during a camping trip, scarring her face and causing her to begin seeing a therapist to help her come to grips with the disfigurement. It is during her visits to the analyst that the fact that Ian suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to his constant postings into combat areas comes out. Since it is Maddie that is used as the first person narrator we learn much about the symptoms of Ian’s PTSD as outlined by her. She is, by her own admission, living with a man with an abundance of phobias that make life for both difficult.

The ending is an incredible piece of writing which brings the reader through several complete changes of view about what has and is happening. Ward has written other novels prior to “Beautiful Bad” but she has certainly vaulted to a place right at the apex of the literary world. I can’t wait for her next book and I’m sure that this will be the reaction of anyone reading this book.

3/19 Paul Lane

BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward. Knopf (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0525521877. 272p.

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OF FIRE AND LIONS by Mesu Andrews

March 10, 2019

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A well written novel based on the Old Testament story of Daniel. The author evidences a great deal of research in presenting a novel like account of the life and times of the prophet. Daniel lived during the tumultuous times characterized by the rule of Nebuchadnezzar over the city state of Babylon and his conquests of much of the known world. The novel begins as the young girl Abigail is taken prisoner by the invading army of the Babylonians conquering Jerusalem and taking her and many others captives. They are being brought to Babylon as slaves. Along with her are five young men including Daniel and four of his friends. Daniel takes a liking and interest in Abigail starting a lifetime of love between them.

Andrews does not gloss over the miracles attributed to Daniel’s times and caused by the one god, Yahweh, that was worshiped by his people. There is the survival of his friends thrown into a blazing furnace and the later survival by Daniel of being thrown into a pit with several hungry lions. He is brought to Babylon in order to be trained to govern under the sway of Nebuchadnezzar along with other selected Hebrews as a means of assuring the rule of a wide variety of men selected from Babylon’s conquests. This is seen as a means of assuring loyalty to Babylon and is a far reaching belief going beyond the period being looked at.

Andrews, as is her practice, has done a good deal of research into the period surrounding Daniel’s life both by close reading of the book of Daniel and other prophets of that era as well as other surviving works available at present day. Literary license allows the author to resurrect conversations that possibly could have taken place based on events depicted. As an historical work the recreating of the world of about 500 B.C. is truly an engrossing project. The book is made into both a captivating novel as well as the creation of life lived in another and stranger period. The novel is by any definition a mesmerizing read and an all nighter for the reader.

3/19 Paul Lane

OF FIRE AND LIONS by Mesu Andrews. WaterBrook (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0735291867. 400p.

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BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM by Peter Swanson

March 8, 2019

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Hen (short for Henrietta) and her husband Lloyd have just moved into a new house just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. They start to meet their neighbors shortly after moving in as a normal activity for people changing into a new environment.

Hen is an illustrator, and a fairly successful one. She is bipolar and has had a bad experience some years ago with a murder of someone that was close to her at that point. But she seems to be on the right meds with her condition controlled and has found happiness with Lloyd and with her work. This was until she and Lloyd in their process of meeting neighbors are invited to Matthew and his wife’s home. Hen sees a sports trophy displayed which she is sure belonged to the person murdered years ago and realizes that Matthew is probably the murderer.

Certainly this recognition would normally provide the ingredients of a great story with Hen reporting her suspicions to the police and than later confronting Matthew as he actually murders another man. But Swanson takes us far beyond one crime as the reader is introduced to Matthew’s psychotic brother Richard, Lloyd’s affair with another woman and her murder, and a probable description of the crime occurring years ago that Hen was privy to. A convoluted set of events certainly but put together by a master of the genre and bringing a great story and some sleepless nights to a fascinated reader. The ending is not broadcast but is logical based on events described with further books by Swanson eagerly awaited.

3/19 Paul Lane

BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM by Peter Swanson. William Morrow (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0062838155. 320p.

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THE DEVIL ASPECT by Craig Russell

March 7, 2019

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A novel that is guaranteed to grab hold of the reader immediately and not let go until the finale. It should be termed dark, but not gothic, although the concept of malevolent spirits permeates its pages. Viktor Kosarek is a young recently graduated psychiatrist who had studied under Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychiatry. It is 1935 and set in a Czechoslovakia with the advent of Nazism on the horizon as Viktor seeks his first job. He holds the theory that evil in a person is due mainly to an evil spirit existing within the makeup of people. That the reason for murder taking place is the pressure brought by this force beyond the ability of the person to control.

Viktor’s theories catch the attention of the manager of a famous insane asylum known as the Hrad Orlu asylum for the criminally insane. At the time the asylum houses only six patients who are among the most horrific killers in Europe . He is invited to work at the asylum attempting to treat the six and prove his theory. Upon arrival Viktor begins sessions with the six; One woman and five men. He is aided with a young lady, Judita, handling the written transcription for the interviews with the patients. She is Jewish and is attempting to flee Europe ahead of the Nazi terror she realizes is coming. A love affair does develop between her and Viktor which plays out in the background.

A second scenario is developed dealing with a serial killer known only as Leather Apron who is terrorizing Prague. His methods of slaughter are reminiscent of England’s Jack the Ripper murderer. Russell follows the chase led by a policeman and also ties in ancient legends about evil entities that have permeated Czechoslovakia’s past.

The reader will be led into reading about murder at its most horrible with descriptions of mutilated bodies that can definitely be very difficult to bear. These are tied into Viktor’s findings in a logical way that helps lead to a finale that is logical and ends the novel in a manner very suited to the story being told. An excellent piece of dark literature that will keep readers glued to the pages attempting to discern an ending that is certainly not telegraphed but is quite satisfying.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE DEVIL ASPECT by Craig Russell. Doubleday (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0385544368. 432p.

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