Friday, 22 February 2013

The Racketeer by John Grisham

Malcolm Bannister is a prisoner undergoing a ten year sentence in a low risk federal camp. He is wrongly convicted of being involved in a racketing scam. Malcolm is a lawyer, who had now spent five years of his imprisonment hoping for something to happen. Something does happen. Judge Fawcett is found murdered in his secluded lakeside cabin and Malcolm knows who murdered him and why? Malcolm uses Rule 35 to cut a deal with the FBI and leave the Prison with his sentence commuted. But now he has to keep watching all the time.

The story progresses very slowly and where it is going I couldn't guess. Initially I thought it would be about Malcolm on the run, how the witness protection programme works or don't. So if it is, why is the book called the Racketeer? So when is the racketing stuff going to surface. There is a talk about payback, revenge. I couldn't help wondering revenge on whom, the FBI, the Judge, the guy who got him involved in racketing or somebody else? It slowly unravels and there isn't much to guess because the narrator does not reveal more than his immediate actions. Did I see it coming? No! It's all a surprise to me. There were little hints that add up in the end. I wish there was more tension, suspense or anticipation about things to happen that hooked me to the book than just a little interest to know what Malcolm is doing.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell

Martin wins a hundred thousand pounds in football pools. He decides to give away half the money to deserving needy people he knows and keep the other half for himself. He makes a list of people he could help and approaches them in person or by post. He mainly wants to help some of these people by paying money for buying a house preferably outside London. The story takes place in the late 1970s and and Martin feels that ten thousand pounds would get a house in country side. Martin's desire to see the visible effect of his charity creates some interesting situations. Sudden philanthropy makes people question so what is in it for him? Why does he want to giveaway the money? What should I do in return? Rendell plays quite well with this idea.

Martin's friend Tim had been responsible for Martin winning the pools. Tim gave him the winning combination. Martin decides not to give Tim a share of the winning money because he is sure that Tim would fritter it away. Martin meets Francesca and falls in love with her. Something is wrong with Francesca what exactly we don't know.

Finn is a hitman. He is a plumber, a handyman and a hitman. How many he may have murdered we don't know. We do know that at least two people he had definitely murdered. As in other Rendell stories, these two threads are going to intertwine and what would happen then? Martin would meet Finn at some point and something dangerous is going to happen then. Rendell slowly builds up the tension before the final dénouement.

Martin and Finn are typical Rendell characters. Martin, the successful accountant unsure about his sexuality, wanting to giveaway the money but not wanting to give some to his friend who actually gave him the combination, expert in accounts not seeing the obvious fault in his plan. There is something wrong with Finn and it is not spelt out except to say his mother had been over forty when he was born and she is schizophrenic. There is the talk of astral body, levitation, poltergeist activity, a little mystery about him. Finn is a recurring character in Ruth Rendell books, under different names with slightly different characteristics reminding me of characters in Sight for Sore Eyes, The Saint Zita Society and The Monster in the Box . Did I say that I love Rendell's standalones more than Wexford books as they are more intense?

Published in 1980 The Lake of Darkness is one of the few books by Ruth Rendell that I haven't read before. Looking forward to read Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine's The Child's Child-the darker the better.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Seconds Away by Harlan Coben

Seconds Away is the second book in the Young Adult series featuring Myron Bolitar's nephew, Mickey Bolitar. Appropriate title for a second book in a series, isn't it? Here is my review of the first book Shelter.

In this outing, Mickey's new friend Rachel Caldwell is shot and her mother murdered. Who murdered Rachel's mother and shot Rachel? Will Rachel live? Is this killing connected to the Ashley (Mickey's girlfriend who disappears in Shelter) case? If so, are Spoon, Ema and Mickey in danger too? There is some mystery about his new best friend Ema. What is it? Why is Ema so secretive about her home and parents? Will Mickey find the truth?

In the last outing Shelter, Mickey faces with lots of questions but he found answers only for some. Will he find answers for the other questions? Is Mickey's dad alive as the Bat Lady said? Why do the Shaved Head and Bat Lady insist that he not discuss about them and the Shelter to Myron?

I found the beginning bit repetitive. I get it. Mickey, has great hand eye co-ordination and has great combating skills because his uncle is a pro-basketball player and his mom is a tennis prodigy. I just came to it after finishing the first book last week, so maybe it is too repetitive for me. Again this book doesn't answer all the questions. Some are left dangling to be answered probably for the next. Oh! How many scrapes will Mickey get into? Mickey also solves another case. There are some surprises and yeah I didn't figure out who killed Rachel's mother.

Mickey quotes his father quoting Occam's Razor

Other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.

Oh! I always love simple solutions makes more sense than complex ones. After reading almost back to back Mickey Bolitar books, I think I am ready for some great standalones from Coben and I do miss a bit of Myron, Win and company.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Eye Collector by Sebastian Fitzek

When the story starts with an epilogue and the first chapter is the end, one can't help asking, if this is just a gimmick or it serves a purpose. Eavesdropping into the Police Radio ex-cop and now reporter Alexander Zorbach discovers that the Eye Collector is at work again. And the countdown begins. The Eye Collector of Berlin is a serial killer, who kills the wife, kidnaps the child and challenges the husband to find the child before the stopwatch in his dead wife's hand stops, playing a deadly game of Hide and Seek. When the husband fails, he sends back the dead child with only one eye, as his name suggests.

Alex gets embroiled in this case. He meets Alina Gergoriev who is blind, who tells him a story that he is not sure if he can believe. Alina tells him that at certain times she has visions about the past. Alina is a massager and on touching her latest client, she sees a vision. She sees him killing the wife and kidnapping the child and is sure that he is the Eye Collector. How did Alina trace Alex? They start investigating the vision and get involved in the case more and more. Will Alex and Alina save the child before the stopwatch stops? Can Alex trust Alina?

This is a fast-paced book with very short chapters and good size font that is really easy on the eye. The events follow one after another, that the thoughts lingering in the back of my mind surfaced only at the end, so whatever happened in the end is not really a surprise, the whole story had been moving towards this conclusion. Still there are other surprises and twists and turns. Given the title I had to think that the book would be gory and graphic. It isn't. At least, he does not go into the mechanics of eye collection. Fitzek uses mythology to explain why the eye collector is doing what he is doing. Do serial killers take a short course in mythology?

By using Alina as one of the key characters in the story, Fitzek points out in his acknowledgements, he wanted to answer his and our questions about blind. Have you ever wondered how do the blind dream? Do they see images like us or is it different? Do they 'watch' TV? How do they distinguish colours? Fitzek points out that he had conducted research and got information to answer some of these questions and to remove some of the preconceived notions we may have about them from watching movies and reading books.

Yes! The reverse story telling does serve a purpose and is not a gimmick. Originally published in German, The Eye Collector is translated into English by John Brownjohn and published in 2012.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Shelter is Harlan Coben's entry into Young Adult market featuring Myron Bolitar's nephew, 15 year old Mickey Bolitar who is first introduced in Live Wire. You can read my review for Live Wire here.

After a nomadic life travelling all around the world, Mickey's parents decide to settle back in U.S to give Mickey stability and a chance to work on his passion that is basketball. Mickey's world collapses when his father dies in an accident and his mother, Kitty, loses control and takes refuge in drugs. While Kitty is in rehab, Mickey stays in Myron's house in the basement with a certain level of independence from Myron. As we know from Live Wire, Mickey hates Myron, given the present circumstance he just tolerates him.

Mickey is in high school and his new girlfriend, Ashley Kent, disappears one day. She simply stops coming to school. And on the way to school is the Bat Lady house, bogeyman, who is supposed to eat children. The Bat Lady appears before Mickey and not only calls him by name but tells him that his dad is alive. Now Mickey has not only find out what happened to Ashley, but also find out what the Bat Lady is saying. How could his dad be alive? Mickey saw his dad dying in a car accident. So what is this Bat Lady about? What happened to Ashley? How could Ashley come to school one day and stop coming from the next? Mickey makes some friends, Ema and Spoon, in high school who help him with his adventures.

As all Coben books, this one has lots of twists and turns and big surprises too. One addition would be adding a bit of mythology! While Myron makes a brief appearance, I did miss Win. Initially the Bat Lady stuff for a fifteen year old, did not seem fit. I understand a 8 year old being afraid of a haunted house and its dubious resident Bat Lady, but a fifteen year old? No. But Coben adds other scary elements and works it really well, that I bought into it. Sometimes behind the wisecracks and fighting techniques of Mickey, I couldn't help hearing Myron's voice. Like uncle, like nephew? I couldn't help asking do Fifteen year olds analyse and comment on their fighting techniques while on the fight itself, that's more Myron stuff, isn't it? I haven't read any YA except Hunger Games nor do I know any 15 year olds. So I couldn't really say if the voice is authentic. But I love my twists and surprises and Harlan never disappoints.

While one part of the story concludes the other ends in a cliffhanger. Did I say I hate cliffhangers? I am glad that I waited till the second book Seconds Away is released to read the first one because to know the answers that I don't have to wait, I can just read the next one. But if Seconds Away also ends in a cliffhanger, it means I will stop reading this series, until some more books are released.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Five Passengers from Lisbon by Mignon G Eberhart

In 2012, I read Escape the Night by Mignon G. Eberhart and enjoyed it very much. So I borrowed Five Passengers from Lisbon from the Open Library.

After the end of the World War II, wanting to leave behind the painful war years in Europe, five passengers get aboard a cargo ship from Lisbon travelling to Buenos Aires. On way, the ship faces a storm and the passengers find themselves clinging to a lifeboat, fighting the storm in the dark along with three seamen. With the break of the dawn they find a Red Cross ship and find refuge there. Aboard the hospital ship they find that one of the Seamen Alfred Castiogne was stabbed to death in the lifeboat. Who killed him and why? All the Five passengers claim that they were only slightly acquainted with Castiogne and have no reason to murder him, so the murderer should be one of the other seamen. But we do know, don't we it is one of the Five passengers from Lisbon. Who is it and why?

"What had they brought from the sinister, harried little lifeboat onto this ship?"

The five passengers are Marcia Colfax, her Fiancé Michel Banet, Daisy Belle Cates and her husband Luther Cates and Gili Duvrey. The story is from the view point of Marcia. On the hospital ship, Marcia find herself the target of repeated murder attempts. Who is trying to kill her and why? There is no reason for anybody to murder Marcia, she does not know anything incriminating about anyone nor is she a danger for anyone. After the first attempt on her life, Eberhart slowly builds up tension that you keep expecting more attempts on her life. As the body count increases and number of survivors from the lifeboat decreases, will the Captain of the Red Cross Ship find the murderer and bring back peace on his ship?

Imagine the plight of the Captain of the Red Cross Ship. He had given refuge to people floating on a lifeboat and brought murder into his orderly and life-saving ship.

Eberhart writing is so evocative that I can imagine the fog seeping into the ship making visibility zero percent and danger hundred percent. Do I have to say, that I love mysteries on a ship!

Published in 1946 Five Passengers from Lisbon is a short novel with some romance and lots of suspense that can be read in a couple of hours.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

My Science Fiction reading has mostly comprised of Jules Verne, H G Wells and Isaac Asimov. I enjoyed reading the Foundation Series and I, Robot a long time back. When I knew that Asimov had written Science Fiction Mysteries I just had to read it.

A millennium from now human beings have colonised 50 other planets. Earthmen live in Cities constructed in steel. They no longer live in open air but in caves of steel. Lije Baley, the protagonist of the story, has 'rarely seen rain, or any other phenomena of nature' in his forty-two years of life.

While on other planets human beings co-exists with Robots, on earth they dislike robots because Robots have taken over jobs from them. Human Beings from other planets, Spacers, live on earth in a special Spacetown with restricted access to earthmen.

When a prominent spacer scientist is killed in Spacetown, Julius Enderby, Commissioner of Police, City of New York approaches Lije Baley to investigate the case along with Spacer Robot Daneel Olivaw. Enderby instructs him

"If he (robot) breaks the case, if he can report that we are incompetent, we are ruined, anyway. We, as a department. You see that, don't you? So you've got a delicate job on hand. You've got to work with him, but see to it that you solve the case and not he."

Lije like majority of human beings on earth dislikes Robots. Robot Daneel is a special robot trained for investigations and looks like normal human being. Lije has not only solve the case, but has to overcome his distrust for robots and also prove he is more efficient than a Robot. How would Lije prove that he is better than a mind reading Robot is a challenge. Who killed the scientist and why? Will Lije prove that he is more efficient than a Robot?

I love this Science Fiction mystery which does not compromise on both angels. It is great science fiction and a great mystery. It works like a classic mystery suspicion moving from one key character to another with plenty of clues and some red herrings with a final satisfying result. Published in 1953 The Caves of Steel is a treat for both mystery lovers and Science Fiction lovers.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Some books get talked about so much that you really had to read it to know, what it is all about. Gone Girl came with lots of recommendation and justifies it too. The premise of Gone Girl is very close to Linwood Barclay's Never Look Away which I read in 2011 but did not review. While Never Look Away is a thriller, Gone Girl is more psychological, both ask the question what do you really know about the person you have lived with for years.

This story is narrated in part in first person by Nick Dunne and in part from Amy's diary. On the fifth anniversary of their wedding, Amy goes missing. 'What happened to Amy?' is the question our dear Nick never asks. I have never read a book in first person where the narrator alienates himself from the reader(me). I couldn't help wondering that there is definitely something wrong here. However evil, cruel or whatever a person is, he or she in first person narrative tries to present themselves in a sympathetic viewpoint. There are discrepancies in the narratives, which initially read like the story Harry and Sally say. For example, Nick is not happy with the first anniversary gift, while Amy feels she has got him what he really wanted. As the discrepancies grow, we can't help questioning who is telling the truth and how much of truth both are telling.

There are those twists and turns, and surprises. Amy's parents who have 'exploited' her childhood with Amazing Amy books are really a masterpiece. Nick and Amy are really made for each other. Flynn takes us on a psychological journey into love, marriage and after. If love brings out the best in you, marriage brings out the worst in you. But I am not happy with the ending which is quite 'nuclear'. Do we not really know our spouses? ; )