The author is the successful writer of more than 50 books in his career. All of them are well written, equally well researched and generally set in a tumultuous period of history. One of his characteristics is the creation of characters that are larger than life be they hero or villain. In many cases he has utilized families in his novels as the centerpieces to the story. King of Kings utilizes two of the families created in other books and is the continuation of a novel bringing them together. These are Penrod Ballantyne who is a professional soldier; a major in the British army during the late 1800s and Ryder Courtney an adventurer and met looking to set up a silver mine. The period is during the time when England’s general Gordon was regent in Khartoum and was assassinated by a native army led by the Mahdi and his army of dervishes. It reaches climax when the British sent General Herbert Kitchener to retake the city via a battle at Omdurman and therefore conquers the Sudan for his country.
We meet Ballantyne at the moment that he has a fight with his fiancee and she sends him away. At the same time Courtney is married to the sister of the fiancee and she goes with him in search for the silver mine. The novel is pure Wilbur Smith high adventure played out in Ethiopia during a period when it’s rulers fluctuated between natives and invading armies of both Italy and than England. The question of whether Penrod will win his fiancee back is tied in neatly to the events depicted in the novel. In addition what problems does Ryder face if he finds a producing silver mine in the middle of a country facing war from every side. Can it successfully be developed in a land where the rule of law changes continuously?
Readers of Smith’s books will also expect problems to arise that are above those posed and these must be faced and fixed along with all the other troubles faced by the protagonists. As indicated there several evil individuals present who are really really evil and contribute to a well done novel presented by a gifted author.
7/19 Paul Lane
KING OF KINGS by Wilbur Smith. Zaffre (April 2, 2019). ISBN 978-1499862010. 464p.
It is to be expected that an accomplished author such as Morrell would handle any form of literary endeavor with the same masterful touch as any other. In this, Morrell’s third selection of short stories, the truth of the matter is that he does.
This current volume contains fourteen stories ranging in themes from science fiction to horror, all presented with a forward by Morrell indicating a short background of what he did with the stories. A few have characters from his novels as well as independent situations involving those individuals introduced elsewhere.
A review of a volume such as “Before I Wake” presents the difficulty of trying to capture all of a book filled with different situations. That part normally captured in a full length novel must merely include the comment that the author is the tried and true master of all his creations. I read all of the book in one sitting, liked most of the stories, some not so much, and did find that the experience is only different from the author’s novels in that the situation presented must be done in a shorter time.
In the accepted rating system of stars – one or more up to five -I can’t do anything else but give five stars because of the way the author has easily grabbed my attention and allowed me the pleasure of a wonderful reading experience. Read the book, at the very least you will find one or probably many stories to become fascinated with.
6/19 Paul Lane
BEFORE I WAKE by David Morrell. Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover edition (June 30, 2019). ISBN 978-1596069121. 376p.
Will Matthews is a young man newly come to New York from a rural area with the intention of rising up in the corporate world, making both money and a name for himself. He landed a job with a huge brokerage house, but after two years of beating the bushes, cold calling for prospects, he finds himself on the verge of being fired for lack of productivity.
But Will’s luck turns when he gets a ticket to see a hockey game at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. He finds himself sitting next to Sam Abaddon and his girlfriend. Sam, who is an extrovert, strikes up a conversation with Will, which results in a friendship and a golden find for him. Sam turns out to be very wealthy, and decides to invest a great deal of money with Will. He does, and Will’s fortunes do a one eighty. Not only with Sam, but with a group of Sam’s wealthy friends. At the same time, Will meets the girl of his dreams, Gwen Lipton, and it looks like his life has turned out for the much, much better.
But things change completely when Will witnesses an act of extreme violence and becomes caught up in criminal activity when finding out where Sam actually gets his money from. Gwen, who is a rising attorney in a large law firm, decides that she cannot have her own career jeopardized by Will’s problems dumps him, completing the misery now permeating his life.
Mitzner proves himself a master at fleshing out the characters in his novels and this book is no exception to the rule. The ending is a good one and provides the means for Will and Gwen getting back together. Based on the characters described by the author the finale is one that would be appropriate for them and the novel.
6/19 Paul Lane
A MATTER OF WILL by Adam Mitzner. Thomas & Mercer (June 25, 2019). ISBN 978-1503905139. 316p.
The authors have presented a modern story of war. This is opposed to descriptions of battle in past centuries such as “War and Peace,” “All Quiet On the Western Front,” and “Battle Cry”. Those presented descriptions of men and women fighting other humans face to face. ” Rules of Engagement” deals with computers against computers guided by men and women working behind the lines.
Rafid Roshed is one of the most wanted men in the world with years of violent crimes against the west. He has developed an arrangement with North Korea and helps them launch cyber attacks against their enemies, which are the U.S., China and Japan. His latest development is a computer virus that once inserted into a country’s command system can gain control and begin to learn how to carry on on it’s own.
As the story opens, Roshed’s virus has already gained control of China’s system and has guided the Chinese Air force and navy into attacking both the United States and Japan. This occurs without the permission and against the will of the Chinese government.
Don Riley, the head of U.S. Cyber command, with the help of three brilliant midshipmen loaned by the naval academy at Annapolis, take on the task of finding and destroying the deadly virus. At the same time their mission would be to kill or capture Roshed. As in any good war story the action is swift and constant. The book describes the systems utilized in the war and does not utilize an idiom outside of the normal reader’s complete understanding in doing so. Very engrossing and very well done, and an excellent reason to keep an eye out for more from the authors.
6/19 Paul Lane
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT by David Bruns and J.R. Olson. St. Martin’s Press (June 25, 2019). ISBN 978-1250200310. 336p.
It is a truly wonderful feeling to pick up the first published novel by an author and realize that she has hit the jackpot on the first try. Hopefully, there will be many more of the same category allowing her readers to look forward to her books and picking them up when available.
The story begins, as the title indicates, with Dr. Robert Hart receiving the Sag Harbor award for the Man of the Year. Dr Hart has it all: a thriving medical practice, a beautiful home, a beautiful and charming wife. His setting is in a lovely and upscale community on Long Island away from the mad hustle and bustle of New York City, hours away by car. His boat sits in the harbor and his dream is to get an even fancier boat in the near future.
His son, Jonah, has just come off the normal teenage rough patch and is apparently entering an adulthood that involves better relationships with his parents. Jonah has a very good friend that he met in the college he is attending and brings Nick home with him for the summer vacation. And therein enters the fly in the ointment.
After a time, Robert comes to the conclusion that Nick is having an affair with Elizabeth, the beautiful wife in the picture. Walker brings out Dr. Hart’s suspicions via innuendos he perceives in watching the interaction between the two. Clues are available for the reader which seem to point in that direction.
We are swept up in the story by the method and style used by the author and it is a book that cannot be put down before finished. There is a surprise ending which is satisfying based on what has gone before it. This in no way is any sort of detriment for the reader. I leave with the hope that I will have the pleasure of reading more Walker books in the near future.
6/19 Paul Lane
MAN OF THE YEAR by Caroline Louise Walker. Gallery Books (June 11, 2019). ISBN 978-1982100452. 304p.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.