THE DARWIN AFFAIR by Tim Mason

June 17, 2019

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Mason takes his readers back into the England of Queen Victoria in a period around the 1860’s. He brings to vibrant life a London rife with dirt, filth, crime and disease.

Charles Darwin has recently returned from his five year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle and as a result of his studies and observations had published the very controversial “Origin Of the Species.” His claim was that nature assured the survival of creatures that developed the strongest adaptation of those skills necessary to survive in a competitive world. His views conflicted with those of many people that subscribed to the notion that man was made in God’s image. It was therefore, blasphemy to consider that humans were evolutionary descendants of apes.

At the same time the author Charles Dickens had created Chief Detective Bucket in his novel “Bleak House.” It was thought that Inspector Bucket was modeled after a real life police officer named Charles Field. The Darwin Affair begins with an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria and her husband, the Prince Consort Albert. Field is assigned to protect the royal couple and becomes involved with many of the events described.

The story brings into play a kidnapping of a butcher’s boy and what happens to him, a ring of men that rob graves in order to sell the corpses to medical schools and a visit of Prince Albert with Victoria to his native Bavaria. Mason also presents the  woman who became known as Typhoid Mary to later generations of medical students. Mary was thought to be a carrier of a recessed gene for typhoid, infecting all she came in contact with but never showing symptoms herself.

The author has taken great care in researching the events portrayed and the settings in which they take place. Conversations attributed to the characters have carefully been formulated to ring true to the more formal manner of speaking at the time. A rewarding read with the consequent portrait of the period being looked at and one that will cause readers to seek out future books by this author.

6/19 Paul Lane

THE DARWIN AFFAIR by Tim Mason. Algonquin Books; 1 edition (June 11, 2019). ISBN 978-1616206345. 384p.

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RECURSION by Blake Crouch

June 12, 2019

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From the very fertile mind of Blake Crouch comes another novel that is like his past works: almost science fiction, perhaps forecasting the future but most decidedly imaginative and bound to cause sleepless nights for his readers. Crouch has given us the trilogy “Wayward Pines” and recently “Dark Matter” This, his latest novel, continues in the vein of being completely out of the box and going way beyond the limits of imaginative fiction.

Barry Sutton is a detective with the New York City Police Department. He is called to try and stop a possible suicide of a woman who is looking to jump off a building in Manhattan. In talking to her, the lady comes out with the reason for wanting to jump; “my son has been erased.” When she does jump to her death Barry is stirred to begin investigating what she was talking about. He finds a definite surge around the country with cases of people waking up from sleep with memories of a life they never lived. The malady gets the name of “false memory syndrome” and appears to be spreading with resultant suicides when the situation can’t be faced.

Separately, neuroscientist Helena Smith is working on a method of preserving one’s most intense memories and allowing the person involved to relive them. A method seen as providing humans with vivid memories of both wonderful, and even bad in order to enjoy them again.

Barry and Helena meet, becoming lovers and marrying. And Helena’s project gives rise to actually reentering life at certain points in time based on the memories of the person. Is this time travel or something more? Crouch builds a lucid and very logical progression of events involved with using memories to relive the past. While nothing is mentioned in the notes after the book, I believe it would be an incredible movie. Hope Hollywood picks this up and makes it so.

6/19 Paul Lane

RECURSION by Blake Crouch. Crown (June 11, 2019). ISBN 978-1524759780. 336p.

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A FACE IN THE CROWD by Kerry Wilkinson

June 9, 2019

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Lucy and Ben are a very happy couple. They love each other and plan on marriage in a short while. As are many young couples, their incomes are not very big but that does not deter them from enjoying life together living with each other.

Lucy is attempting to complete her university studies while Ben is building up his clientele as a day trader. Ben usually works from their apartment with some travel as needed As the novel opens Ben is getting ready to meet clientele traveling to them by train. He leaves on his trip and the world comes apart for Lucy. She is notified that there was a train wreck with many fatalities and Ben is among them.

Five years later Lucy is working as a cashier in a small supermarket. She unfortunately discovered, much to her chagrin, that Ben had taken all their savings and lost them in the securities market as well as piling up debt for other investments beyond any near term means of repaying it. Lucy became responsible for repayment when it was discovered that her signature had been forged by Ben on loan applications. She is living from hand to mouth with no real means of getting out from under the debt.

Taking the bus to work every day brings the novel to an important moment in the story. Coming home from work she discovers that someone had inserted an envelope with thousands of pounds into her purse. The amount is equal to about three months of her salary from the supermarket but Lucy feels that the only option for her is to look for the person that placed the envelope in her bag and return it.

Finding the money brings Lucy to a juncture in her life. Is the money a means of bettering her situation or is it something causing a host of problems for her. The novel takes the reader through the events occurring due to the finding of the money and makes it a book that cannot be left aside, but must be finished in one reading. Certainly Wilkinson continues his excellent literary career with the expectation that future books by him must be bought and read. There is little doubt that they will be as mesmerizing as this one is.

6/19 Paul Lane

A FACE IN THE CROWD by Kerry Wilkinson. Bookouture (June 3, 2019). ISBN 978-1786817648. 280p.

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THE LAST THING SHE REMEMBERS by J. S. Monroe

May 30, 2019

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Monroe presents his readers with a puzzle upon another puzzle and so on. The reader is grabbed as soon as the story starts to unfold when an unknown woman arrives at a sleepy Wiltshire village in England directly from an arrival at Heathrow airport from Germany. She is not only unknown but also a mystery to herself when she has no memory of who she is, what her name is, reports her bag missing but has a train ticket home. She goes to a home in the town, knocks on the door and strangely is admitted. She shows a familiarity for the dwelling and the current residents believe that she might have lived there at some point in the past.

The author takes us through the interactions of the woman, the husband in the home she enters, the police and as an aside the appearance and shooting of another woman by the police when that person is thought to be the first lady. Puzzling no?

Monroe takes us on a roller coaster of a ride delivering enough evidence for the reader to change his or her mind several times during the events described. The finale is logical, but as in any conclusion in life is more than a little open ended and leaves some doubts in the readers’ minds. A very well done and satisfying story which leaves no doubt that subsequent novels by the author will be looked for and read.

5/19 Paul Lane

THE LAST THING SHE REMEMBERS by J. S. Monroe. Park Row; Original edition (May 28, 2019). ISBN 978-0778307822. 416p.

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KEEP YOU CLOSE by Karen Cleveland

May 29, 2019

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This is Cleveland’s second published book and it follows on the heels of “Need to Know,” which was a mesmerizing novel dealing with a woman working as an analyst for the CIA. In her second book, the protagonist is a woman working for the FBI and the reader is again drawn into the story and kept there until the novel is finished.

Stephanie Maddox is in charge of an FBI unit dealing with internal affairs. She was promoted to the position at an age younger than her peer group and intends to earn the position as well as more by her hard work and dedication. She is the single mother of a teen age boy about to graduate from high school and awaiting acceptance to college. Stephanie is totally dedicated to Zachary, her son, and only wants what is best for him.

The unthinkable does happen suddenly when she finds a gun hidden in Zach’s effects; fully loaded with extra bullets in the same spot. At the same time, she is visited by a friend of hers that works with the FBI’s domestic terrorism squad. His visit is not social and his explanation is: “It’s about Zachary”.

Stephanie refuses to accept any supposition that her son is guilty of wrong doing and begins her own unofficial investigation into the matter. The book details what she finds and the reader will not be surprised that it involves people in very high places. These include the Russian Mafia and a U.S. senator that Stephanie has worked for in the past as well as an ex-boyfriend of hers.

Tightly woven, the author leads us on to an ending that is a bit tricky to accept but is a fitting one for the story. Another excellent read by Cleveland and definitely making sure that her future books will be high up on her readers’ acquisitions list.

5/19 Paul Lane

KEEP YOU CLOSE by Karen Cleveland. Ballantine Books (May 28, 2019). ISBN 978-1524797058. 352p.

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THE BETTER SISTER by Alafaire Burke

May 5, 2019

Oh, Alafair! What a terrific book; this was an all nighter for me.

I am not a fan of the unreliable narrator for the most part, but certain authors – and Burke is one of them – do such a good job that I’m hooked. This is such a great story. Sisters who married the same guy? Estrangement seems like it would be the least of their problems. And that turns out to be true.

Adam gets sole custody of Ethan when he leaves Nicky and moves to New York. Ethan is just a toddler so when Chloe marries Adam, she becomes his stepmom, and she is a good stepmom for the most part. But every family has their secrets and Burke is masterful at unspooling them at a pace that just keeps you turning pages.

Adam is killed and Ethan is the prime suspect as the family spirals ever downward. This domestic thriller evolves into a legal nightmare with family boundaries constantly changing until the shocker of an ending. Don’t miss it!

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BETTER SISTER by Alafaire Burke.  Harper (April 16, 2019). ISBN 978-0062853370. 336p.

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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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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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