EMPIRE OF LIES by Raymond Khoury

October 2, 2019

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Khoury has built his reputation as a top author on novels with a fantasy spin.  Not dragons, Greek gods, nor any of the many situations built on an unworldly story. All are well done, well written and based on a certain change to the real world.

“Empire of Lies” is no exception. The plot revolves around an alternative to our present world with changes to current reality that could be true if one subscribes to the difference between our world and what is presented. The novel opens in the alternative world postulated by the author.

This is a situation in which Polish King John Sobieski at the head of a combined European army defeated and stopped an invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks in 1683. The Ottoman army had reached Vienna, were surrounding the city and were about to conquer it and then move further into Europe.  The situation at the beginning of this novel is that something happened to Sobieski and his staff killing them, and the Ottoman invasion succeeded setting up an alternative world stemming from the defeat of the west in 1683.

Kamal Arslan Agha, an officer in the Sultan’s secret police and, based in Paris has begun questioning the situation around him which is becoming more and more autocratic.  He feels that the freedoms guaranteed to the people are becoming eroded with the government becoming a dictatorship.

When he is called on to investigate a stranger appearing naked on the banks of the Seine and brought to a hospital, Kamal learns a strange secret which the Sultan wants to keep secret. He begins an investigation of this secret aided by his sister-in-law Nisreen, who is an outspoken civil rights lawyer. The two are caught up in the secrets of the enlarged Ottoman Empire and find themselves learning about the real circumstances of the battle of 1683, traveling through the empire and learning about a concept of time that is unknown to most of the world.

Very well written, ensuring that the reader will finish the book in one sitting this novel is Raymond Khoury at his best.

10/19 Paul Lane

EMPIRE OF LIES by Raymond Khoury. Forge Books (October 1, 2019). ISBN 978-1250210968. 448p.

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THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton

September 26, 2019

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When faced with huge problems that appear insurmountable the tendency among many people is to blurt out, “well really what can one person do.” And that often becomes the response to the matter, and no further effort is expended.  Ms Clayton’s latest book tells the true story of one woman that did something and many many children benefited by having their lives saved through her efforts.

The events portrayed take place in Germany, Austria, Holland, and England in the few years just before the initiation of hostilities in World War II. Vienna, Austria is a good place to live if one has the income.  There is fun, culture, fine family life and the means to assure the well being of one’s family.  The good life comes to an end when Hitler, who has come to power in Germany forces a plebiscite in Austria which indicates that they will side with Germany in the event of war with other countries.  The agreement is policed by the entrance of Nazi troops that change the landscape immediately for Austrians.

Stephen Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential  Jewish family and a budding playwright, and Zofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits an anti-Nazi newspaper, are friends.  It also appears that life taking its course will find them marrying when old enough. The two are used by the author to illustrate what happens to the good life in Vienna and subsequent events.

Hitler sends Adolf Eichmann to supervise the shift in Vienna, and he quickly initiates Nazi policies.  Repression of Jews, Gypsies and Gays become a reality in the once happy country of Austria.  These groups are quickly prohibited from enjoying the normal rights of others with jobs, businesses right to own property denied them.  Eichmann initiates plans to get these groups out of Austria but purposely makes it almost impossible for them to travel outside.

In the darkest period of this time, Truus Wijsmuller a member of the newly formed Dutch Resistance, begins risking her life to get children out from the Nazi sphere of influence.  When England passes a law to take in at-risk children from the German Reich she gets up the nerve to approach Eichmann to get permission to start sending out children.  He agrees imposing almost impossible conditions, but Tante (Aunt) Truus as she begins to be known to the children manages to start with a group of 600 children sent to London. The author’s description of this trip, the anguish of parents sending out children that they may never see again, the children devastated at being torn away from their families and the lives they lived to enter the unknown cannot fail to stir emotion with any reader.

Stephen and Zofie-Helene are members of this first group and followed until they enter the system established in England to take care of these children. This includes finding them homes with families that consider adopting them.  A very powerful book set in a world gone mad and one that has no problem in getting the reader to finish it in one sitting.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton. Harper (September 10, 2019). ISBN 978-0062946935. 464p.

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THE FIFTH COLUMN by Andrew Gross

September 21, 2019

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Andrew Gross’s latest novel is a well-done story dealing with falling and subsequent redemption. The book takes place in New York City during a period just prior to the U.S  entering World War II. Europe is ablaze with war with Great Britain, and France was confronting a German military machine set to overrun them. Feelings are running high in the U.S. with than president Franklin Roosevelt trying to keep the country out of the war.  There are groups of pro-Nazi sympathizers pushing an agenda for America to enter the war on the German side and others favoring the Allies.

Charles Mossman is a young man with little or no political agenda who is in the position of just losing his job teaching at the university level and also facing the end of his marriage.  He is in a bar getting drunk, across the street from a pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan when several pro-Hitler men draped in Swastika flags and drunk enter the bar.  Charles gets into a fight with them and in a drunken wild swing accidentally kills a young man standing close to the melee.

Sentenced to prison for one count of accidental homicide, he serves two years and is released into a situation with no prospects for a job due to his prison record and his wife not wanting him around. The only bright spot is that his wife does allow him visits to Emma, his daughter twice a week. They live in a section of New York City with many people showing support for Hitler. In the course of his visits Charles meets neighbors Trudi and Willi Bauer living across the hall from his family and develops a feeling in his gut that these people are not the Swiss they claim they are but secret Nazi sympathizers.

Gross, in a mesmerizing chain of events, tells the story of Charles’ actions and results with what he knows and what he finds out. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance on the side of the allies in the war is a well-described background to the story. Certainly a compelling all night read, “The Fifth Column” continues the author’s sequence of excellent books.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE FIFTH COLUMN by Andrew Gross. Minotaur Books (September 10, 2019). ISBN 978-1250180001. 336p.

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ELEVATOR PITCH by Linwood Barclay

September 18, 2019

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Events in this novel begin on a Monday when an elevator in a high rise office building breaks through its safety features and plunges down, killing all four passengers riding in it. Popular conjecture is that it is a fluke in as much as elevator accidents are fortunately very few and far between. But another accident occurs in a different building on Tuesday indicating quite clearly that these are not accidents. Then again a third accident takes place on Wednesday.

The public in New York City, the scene of the accidents panics and the city is thrown into chaos with doubt in everyone’s mind about the safety of riding elevators up and down going and coming from work.  A body is then discovered that has had its fingers cut off, and is tied to the elevator tragedy.

The novel then follows the work of two New York City detectives and an active journalist in looking at the facts discovered, the possibilities that exist, and key persons to solve the mystery.

Barclay, as is his custom and his talent, grabs hold of his readers and holds them until the very logical ending. Personal facts brought out about each of the individuals working the case make for a better read in the sense that each becomes more of a real person. The use of elevators as murder weapons and the reasons for doing so are clearly explained and help the novel become another typical interesting Linwood Barclay read.

9/19 Paul Lane

ELEVATOR PITCH by Linwood Barclay. William Morrow (September 17, 2019). ISBN 978-1250182296. 464p.


NOTHING VENTURED by Jeffrey Archer

September 7, 2019

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William Warwick Novels, Book 1

“Nothing Ventured” marks the start of a new series by the very versatile Jeffrey Archer. As in all his other works, the writing is crisp, characterizations well done, and the plot captures the reader’s immediate attention. It is a novel about a detective and it does definitely involve cases that are believable and solved only by hard police work.

William Warwick is the son of a very successful defense attorney, who would like nothing better than to have his son enter his practice when the time has come. But William, at the tender age of eight, wants nothing less than to work as a detective and aims for that goal. While both his father and his sister Grace are attorneys, William doesn’t lose sight of his goal.

After finishing university, he applies to and is accepted for London’s Metropolitan Police Force .After undergoing an apprenticeship under the watchful eye of an experienced patrolman, William manages an appointment to Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Squad.

The story follows William’s first case, does not gloss over his initial trials and possible errors, and becomes a very engrossing novel. In tracing a possible lead in a case involving a missing Rembrandt masterpiece, he visits an art gallery and meets Beth Rainsford. Beth is a beautiful woman and does become the person that William is interested in marrying. To add a bit of spice, Beth has a secret of her own which she is reluctant to share with William and one which will have a bearing on an action of his.

Archer points out his probable future plans for this series by placing the start of William’s police career in the mid 1980’s. This would mean that future novels will bring him into the 21st century, certainly books that will reflect his literary skills and attract the reader to seek them out.

9/19 Paul Lane

NOTHING VENTURED by Jeffrey Archer. St. Martin’s Press (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-1250200761. 336p.

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THE EXTINCTION AGENDA Michael Laurence

September 2, 2019

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Michael Laurence starts out with the beginnings of an extremely interesting novel set on the U.S. – Mexican border and involving the constant effort of the Border Patrol to keep out illegal aliens. He then moves forward and presents his readers with a much larger and more engrossing plot.

James Mason and his strike force are met as they launch a raid against what are perceived as smugglers, but encounter evidence of an adversary aiming to destroy humanity for their own evil intentions. During the raid, many of Mason’s strike force are killed as well as his partner who was his mentor during his early years with his bureau.

Returning to his division, James becomes possessed by what he is sure that he found, and in spite of his superior’s opposition to the idea, launches his own investigation into what he has seen and determined in the building raided on the border. He is positive that what is planned is far and away over and above a case of smuggling in material into the U.S. Proving that he is correct in his assumptions, his wife, who is an investigator for the Internal Revenue Service, is killed in an explosion while investigating a potential suspect in what is probably a warning to leave the investigation.

With the help of two of his friends, Mason finds that what he has uncovered is a conspiracy that has been hatched more than a hundred years earlier, about the period of the first World War. The investigation, what is uncovered, and the events involved in solving the mystery are handled in a fashion geared to keeping the reader glued to the book and wondering what is really involved.

The ending is a logical one stemming from the events depicted and also leaves enough room for more books about James Mason and the two friends that helped him in this one. Based on the way Laurence handles this novel, they should also be all-nighters and sought after by his readers.

9/19 Paul Lane

THE EXTINCTION AGENDA Michael Laurence. St. Martin’s Press (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-1250158482. 400p.

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LEVIATHAN by James Byron Huggins

August 22, 2019

The author creates a novel loosely tied to the Norse legends of heroic men fighting dragons in ancient days. It is appropriately set on an island off the coast of Iceland and takes place in modern times. An experiment by a group of scientists has turned a kimono dragon into a fearsome creature via changing the relatively mild dragon into a real dragon via adjustment of it’s DNA It can bend steel and granite and has the ability to shoot fire at it’s enemies. The purpose of the change is to create an unconquerable weapon of war and it certainly has done so.

The experimental company is comprised of scientists, soldiers, and support personnel. When Leviathan escapes it’s confinement area all realize that the beast, if it reaches the outside has the ability to literally wipe out the entire population of earth. Making the matter even more dangerous is the perception of the beast that every living human being is it’s enemy and must be destroyed.

The battle to somehow destroy Leviathan is spearheaded by a mechanically inclined electrical engineer named Connor, who finds ways to take on the dragon and supply the incentive for others to join in the fight since a bad outcome could mean the end of mankind.

The descriptions of the many attempts to stop Leviathan are very well done and actually appear to accelerate as the reader goes ahead with the novel. Huggins has a solid background of authoring similar books featuring fights against almost supernatural creatures by men and women who seem to exceed what is normal in life.

8/19 Paul Lane

LEVIATHAN by James Byron Huggins. WildBlue Press (July 9, 2019). ISBN 978-1948239868. 480p.

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THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North

August 18, 2019

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This novel is North’s first book and it definitely heralds the appearance of a very talented author on the literary scene. It is an emotional roller coaster taking hold of the reader and holding him or her until the quite satisfying ending.

Tess Clarke is a happily married young woman with a young son the cement further bonding the couple. They have also purchased a new home away from the hustle and bustle of London assuring a better lifestyle for all three. Her husband, Mark, has just been promoted to the sales department with the firm he works for when suddenly tragedy strikes. On a sales trip to Germany, Mark, leaving ahead of other staff members coming there, is killed when the plane he is on crashes, killing all aboard.

Tess is devastated but somehow manages to put her son, Jamie’s well being ahead of her own. Not knowing how to act she imagines conversations with Mark and his probable replies in examining the world she now lives in. Mark’s brother Ian visits her and instead of being a comfort tells Tess that her husband borrowed 100,000 pounds from him and he needs the money returned immediately. Ian tells her that she should immediately check out her husband’s will, his insurance policies and benefits that could have accrued to the estate.

Not exactly a comforting presence is he? At the same time a grief counselor visits her in order to help Tessa come to grips with her loss. Trouble is that the counselor had lost a young son to leukemia shortly before these events and Tessa gets to feeling that the woman is interested in taking Jamie from her and not in helping her.

The story is told via the descriptions of the days before Jamie’s birthday and what happens during this period. Ms North handles the slow but sure decay of Tessa quite well, keeping the reader glued to the pages and also changing his or her mind about the ending several times. Very well done and an excellent start for this new author.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North. Berkley (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1984803849. 368p.

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THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal

August 16, 2019

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The author sets her story in the London of the 1850’s and sets it very well, describing the city at that time with both its problems and also its attractions. She does an excellent job of presenting the persona involved with their distinct personalities and their reactions to their own time.

The Great Exhibition, a huge hall, is being erected in 1850 in London to showcase as many of the symbols of life at the time, as well as objects that might illustrate the future. Among the exhibitions are portraits done by the artists of the day. The building has an important part to play in the events depicted in the novel.

Iris is a young lady that, due to her background and lack of money, works in a shop making items for the woman in charge. Her sister Rose works with her. As the novel begins, Iris goes to the grounds of the Great Exhibition to have a look at this marvel. In passing she bumps into Silas, whose forte is obtaining either by purchase or killing birds and other animals, mounting them and selling them to artists to use as models in their paintings. Iris forgets the encounter, but Silas imagines that she fell in love with him at that moment. Silas is a psychopath with these tendencies beginning during his early life when he fantasized that a girl he knew was secretly in love with him. When she didn’t respond to him he lured her away from their area and in a secluded woods killed her.

Iris delivers an order from her shop to an artist named Louis Frost. He is struck by her beauty and asks her to model for him. Iris consents but indicates as part of her terms that Louis teach her to paint as well as paying her for the time. The artist later notes that Iris has the talent to become a first class artist, and also falls in love with her, and she with him.

The novel is dedicated to describing the interactions between the three people. It is extremely well done and while the ending is a direct output of the actions of the characters and not a surprise, it provides a good read with the desire instilled to buy more books by Elizabeth Macneal.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal.  Atria/Emily Bestler Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1982106768. 368p.

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THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh

August 13, 2019

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Eddie Flynn, Book 3

Wow – that’s the one word I must use in describing Cavanaugh’s novel featuring former con man and huckster turned defense attorney Eddy Flynn. The novel is a wonderful romp through a murder trial and of course it had to be finished in one sitting (only one cup of coffee though – have to watch the caffeine so I can sleep until Cavanaugh’s next book is published.

Bobby Solomon, a first tier screen actor is accused of killing both his wife, who is his normal co=star, and his agent who were supposedly caught by him in bed together. The star is indicted and is put on trial for murder. Eddy is called upon by the firm handling Bobby’s defense to help them as needed via discrediting testimony by the police officers involved in the arrest. Needing a job Eddy signs on, but due to a change in circumstances finds himself handing the total defense. He hires a former FBI agent to help him with investigations necessary to work the case properly. The lady proves quite capable in working all angles necessary to aid in the defense. She is also introduced as a possible romantic interest in the future since Eddy’s current wife is in the process of divorcing him.

Cavanagh skillfully takes us through the events involved in the trial, starting with picking a jury and moving forward from there. Eddy is shown as human – he does not come up with brilliant one time off the cuff ideas. He has his doubts but continues to work the case as well as he is able. His logical approach turns up one startling factor that becomes the most important aspect of the case. The real killer is not only in court to watch the proceedings; he is actually one of the twelve jurors and in the most advantageous position to influence the verdict.

The rating system we are accustomed to in reviewing a book involves stars – five for best. I really think that that total is not enough. The reader will judge the book, undoubtedly have one or two cups of coffee and relish a superb reading experience and like myself will eagerly await Steve Cavanagh’s future novels.

8/19 Paul Lane

THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh. Flatiron Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1250297600. 336p.

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