Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay – Book Review

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay – Book cover

It can really mess up the American dream if you smash your girlfriend’s head with a big rock. Danny Pine is currently residing at the Fishkill Correctional Facility for precisely this reason. However, his family steadfastly believes in his innocence and has been fighting for his exoneration for years. Meanwhile, Danny’s estranged brother, Matt, receives terrible news: all their relatives on a Mexican vacation died in an accident. As time passes, the circumstances become increasingly suspicious. Matt decides to uncover the truth… Despite the dramatic setup in “Every Last Fear” Alex Finlay surprisingly crafts a family-friendly thriller.

The writing style of “All Your Fears” is quite unremarkable, lacking any distinctive features. Countless books with similarly subdued quality are published daily. However, Alex Finlay successfully overcomes this by structuring the novel effectively. Alongside Matt’s private investigation, you get the reminiscences of other Pine family members, leading up to the tragic conclusion.

FBI agent Sarah Keller, investigating the case, also gets dedicated chapters. So “All Your Fears” meanders through various paths, providing UNEXPECTED twists at each turn. Introducing new turns, possible suspects, and clever tricks, these sophisticated maneuvers significantly enhance the enjoyment of the thriller.

The unpredictability of Alex Finlay’s book manages to conceal the fact that the main characters of “Every Last Fear” the Pine family members, are not very well-developed. Matt, the most thoroughly introduced among them, is a true-blue average American citizen, and that’s about it.

However, it’s effortless to identify with all of them. The family-friendly label at the beginning of this review was not accidental. Finley’s thriller paints the picture of of an ordinary and supportive family, even in times of trouble – while flashing glimpses of sketchy portraits of everyday America along the way.

Family relationships receive significant emphasis – somewhat unnecessarily – in the case of Agent Keller too, who turns out to be the best-developed character in the book. (And by the end of “Every Last Fear”she slowly becomes an honorary family member.)

The impact of the book largely relies on knowing what will happen, creating a growing unease as you watch the pages of the book decrease. This oppressive feeling is particularly noticeable when reading Maggie’s chapters. Maggie, Matt Pine’s sister, is the perfect opposite of contemporary TikTok-expert teenagers: dedicated, smart, and kind, the ideal little sister in every respect.

Read more

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni – Book Review

The Eighth Sister book cover

Do they really have to reactivate a 64-year-old geezer for the CIA, just to send him to Moscow as a spy? Couldn’t they find someone older? Sure, we know that 60 is the new 40, but if the successor organization to the KGB, the FSB, were to chase this guy, wouldn’t it be better to go for a robust young sprinter instead?

And while we’re on appearances: wouldn’t a blonde, Slavic-looking person with a good-natured, foolish expression be more suitable for a Russian job than an African American? Just in case, let’s say, the FSB accidentally starts pursuing him and wants to chase him all over half of Russia. Just to blend in with the crowd more easily.

A faint chance does appear that the FSB will become suspicious of Charles Jenkins. Because he goes there to interfere with one of their operations. The Russians start eliminating the so-called seven sisters, CIA spies operating in deep cover in Russia for decades. Three sisters (Masha, Olga, and Irina – if I remember their names correctly) were already taken care of.

But not only are the sisters dwindling, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the Tsar of all Russians, activates the eighth sister! Damn! Her task is to find the other seven and kill them. Jenkins is stuck with the thankless task of messing around until the eighth sister notices him. If that happens, he must identify this evil she-devil and then get out immediately.

And now, let’s pause for a moment! Let’s use our brains!

Read more

Faroe by Remigiusz Mróz – Book Review

Discalimer: This book has not yet been published in English - nor have ANY of the author's books. But reading this review, anyone can easily decide WHETHER it is worth publishing.
Faroe by Remigiusz Mróz - Book Cover

What could be more depressing in the case of notoriously gloomy Scandinavian crime novels than if the setting itself is oppressive? The Faroe Islands? The smell of fish, economic stagnation, and alcoholism. Remigiusz Mróz’s crime novel titled “Feröer” doesn’t exactly inspire a strong desire to travel there for vacation.

Of course, the Faroe Islands might not be such a miserable place, and Remigiusz Mróz might be saying this just to create the necessary mood for his book. (A Hungarian, for instance, would probably feel right at home. As for the fish smell, one would probably get used to it…) And what makes you doubt Mróz’s judgment entirely is that not only is the setting depressing, but the novel itself isn’t that great either…

Sixteen-year-old Poula Lokin, a popular player in the local handball team, goes missing. The island is in turmoil, locals organize search teams, and soon Danish police officer Katrin Ellegaard arrives at the scene. As time passes, it becomes increasingly doubtful that the girl will be found alive.

Hallbjorn Olsen, the father of Poula’s teammate, was the last one to see the girl alive. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hallbjorn, who, adhering to the island’s traditions, bravely indulged in some alcohol that day, doesn’t remember a SINGLE SECOND of that evening. So, it’s not SURPRISING that he begins to doubt himself: is it possible that he killed Poula, and then, just to be safe, hid the body?

Ellegaard starts the investigation in a hostile environment, as the Faroese dislike the Danes more than the murderers, and among the Danes, they dislike the Danish cops EVEN MORE. She is forced into an alliance with Hallbjorn.

And then you start thinking that police officers from other countries would probably view the unorthodox methods of the Danish police with some suspicion. Not only do they involve complete strangers, even suspects, in the investigation, revealing everything to them, but they also take them along to interrogations. And those left out of the interrogations are the ones who should be questioned first. (The handball team members, darn it.)

Read more

Die Trying by Lee Child – Book Review

Die Trying by Lee Child - Book cover

Since not too many people read this blog anyway, I think, without becoming a subject of widespread ridicule, I can admit that Major Jack Reacher is one of my greatest role models!

My role model, Major Jack Reacher, finds himself in the back of a van with an eye-catching FBI agent in the second installment of Lee Child’s fantastic series (which I happened to pick up again after about 20 years, so I accidentally read it once more). The agent has been kidnapped. My role model, Major Jack Reacher, just happens to end up in the van. Instead of throwing him out of the car, the incredibly stupid kidnappers decide to take him along. Little do these idiots know what kind of problems they are bringing upon themselves.

My role model, Major Jack Reacher, is strong, smart, skilled, cunning, and more Sherlock Holmes-like (see The Gods of War) than Sherlock Holmes himself. (Notice how he analyzes the girl right from the start.) His sense of justice is off the charts, and he is also the best sniper. (You can bet that some people will get a bullet in their heads.)

Did I mention he’s strong? (Bro, he’s super strong! Comes in handy when tearing chains out of the wall.)

He can pick any lock. (Okay, not every lock, because one catches him. A HUGE ONE. You think that’s why he can’t get in there too? Don’t worry, don’t worry!)

So, when it turns out that the kidnapping is the opening move of a sinister conspiracy, my role model, Major Jack Reacher, sets out to uncover EVERYTHING and take down this whole mess.

This is the second installment of the series, but my role model, Major Jack Reacher already appears in full armament before us. Well, almost, because at this early stage of the series, he still has some fears – although luckily they don’t hold him back for too long. Sometimes he hits the floor – but these occasions only fuel his desire for revenge even more. And here, generously, he allows himself (Chuck Norris style) to contemplate the possibility of a more ordinary life. Indeed, Holly, the FBI agent, is a woman for whom you’d also give up the wandering lifestyle…

Yeah, speaking of Chuck Norris, you think Reacher wouldn’t handle it with him? You’re wrong, darn it! If the old guy stirred up trouble, he’d get his share of it too!

8/10 (80%)

Yeah, yeah, you’re saying there’s this constant counting going on. Well, maybe there’s a bit too much of it, but who’s perfect? Is the end of the book a bit abrupt? Who cares?! It’s 400 pages, it ends when it ends! And that sometimes it’s overexplained? Okay, enough already!

Die Trying (Jack Reacher #2) by Lee Child
432 pages, Paperback
Published in 2012 by Berkley

The King’s Gambit by John Maddox Roberts – Book Review

The King's Gambit by John Maddox Roberts – Book cover

In the introductory volume of John Maddox Roberts’ historical crime series, now consisting of more than 10 volumes, Decius, a low-ranking Roman official, begins an investigation into the murder of a freed slave. The setting is during the crisis of the Roman Republic in 70 B.C. And guess who Decius encounters right away in the first chapter? Bravo, you guessed it: none other than the up-and-coming Gaius Julius Caesar. Then, of course, other well-known figures of the era appear one after the other, from Pompey the Great to Cicero, and up to the scamp Publius Clodius Pulcher.

Although “The King’s Gambit” is theoretically a crime novel, as it possesses many of its characteristics (coroner, informant, tough sidekick), it feels more like you’re reading a historical novel. The thin thread of the investigation is not very exciting or original (it occasionally uses well-known historical facts clumsily to advance the plot, hello, pirates), and most of the time, it gets overshadowed by discussions of current political and historical conditions. This is partly because young Decius becomes OBSESSED with the idea that he has stumbled into a seditious conspiracy. And that everyone is against him. What?!

The conspiracy accusation later bursts and degrades into a simple political maneuver. There you go! However, Decius doesn’t give up; he continues to pursue the case. No one understands why he is so enthusiastically involved in a miserable slave’s affair. No one. Not even you.

The first installment of John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR series mostly resembles the pilot episode of a detective TV series that hasn’t found its own voice yet, but it’s not terribly bad, and you hope it will find its way eventually.

What, however, can unequivocally be credited to the “The King’s Gambit’s” merit is the seemingly entirely authentic portrayal of the historical period. I abandoned the Gordianus series in a similar genre precisely because it lacked this authenticity. Unfortunately for it, I had just finished reading Colleen McCullough’s monumental Masters of Rome series, and it quickly fell short in comparison.

That’s not the case with this book. On the contrary, seamlessly integrated into the text, almost every other paragraph provides information that helps you understand the political and social conditions of the era more clearly or makes you feel like you are strolling alongside the eager beaver Decius on the narrow, cobblestone streets of Rome.

6.9/10 (69%)

The King’s Gambit (SPQR #1) by John Maddox Roberts
274 pages, Paperback
Published in 1990 by Minotaur Books

Gods of War by James Lovegrove – Book Review

Gods of War by James Lovegrove - Book cover

In James Lovegrove’s crime novel “The Gods of War,” Sherlock Holmes has now reached his sixtieth year. It’s no wonder, then, that his joints creak and crack. Fat-ass Dr. Watson, truth be told, can’t keep up with the pace as he used to. Luckily for them, they don’t really need to in this novel. The excellent detective, for instance, doesn’t even bother to use his unique method to casually deduce how his long-lost colleague traveled on the train, the biggest cliché in every Holmes story, since he is, as he puts it, “too excited about his new case”… Which turns out to be a pitiful burglary.

It seems cheap, doesn’t it? Yet, how much would it have cost Lovegrove to figure out that the person sitting across from Watson was an aging, one-legged Devonshire horse trader, intending to buy feed for his prize-winning colt, Bucephalus… while on the right side of the doctor, an old lady wearing a pheasant-feathered hat was traveling to visit her sister, while she was reading the fourth edition of “The Secret of the Cloister.”

Nothing at all.

The situation improves a bit when they stumble upon a new case, but not by much. After numerous mishaps and awkward encounters, the two characters, resembling a parody of themselves, uncover a mystery that would feel embarrassing even in a young adult fantasy. Not to mention that the great revelation lacks any excitement or unexpected twist. The two old bones wander aimlessly through about two-thirds of the plot, then Holmes unexpectedly leaves, returns, and announces that he has solved everything. And you just stare, realizing he even found out a bunch of other unnecessary things.

James Lovegrove’s writing style in this book more or less resembles Conan Doyle’s not-so-fresh prose, excluding a few awkward, anachronistic expressions. However, some supporting characters simply don’t fit into the early 20th century., like the overly emancipated costume shop girl who invests all her savings in a small-town costume store. (Pre-market research rules!) Or the childishly malicious and scheming police officer.

But these mean nothing compared to an unparalleled feat of authorship that I have never encountered in my decades-long reading career! Ladies and gentlemen, behold the man, James Lovegrove, who writes in SLOW MOTION:

Listen up!: “Despite being ten years older, a love affair blossomed between us. But after a few months, his behavior changed, so I broke up with him.” This takes ten pages in the book.

What would be a sentence in a normal case takes at least half a page in this book. Everything is explained to the extreme. If the characters reach a house, you can be sure that a one-page description of the building’s history, plus the impressions of “The Gods of War” characters about it, is coming.

If Aleister Crowley, the eccentric magician, happens to be mentioned, you can read an additional two exhaustive pages about this peculiar figure’s work. If someone asks a character about the time, they will tell the time AND ALSO narrate who they inherited their watch from, where they got the leather strap, and that three weeks ago, they once forgot to wind it, making them late for Aunt Maggie’s tea party.

Sounds boring?

BECAUSE IT FRAKKIN’ WELL IS!

4.5/10

Gods of War (The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Titan Books #5) by James Lovegrove
296 pages, Paperback
Published in 2014 by Titan Books

The Helicopter Heist by Jonas Bonnier – Book Review

The Helicopter Heist by Jonas Bonnier - book cover

Jonas Bonnier’s book is roughly a Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Scandinavian crime and documentary novel. Or something like that. Actually, not entirely because the former genre is only hinted at by the setting, however, the incessant whining of nameless characters throughout pages is not the case with this book. And if you’re worried that, since the book is a true story, it will just throw facts at you, that’s not the case either because “The Helicopter Heist” is thoroughly fictionalized.

In 2009, a few guys robbed the G4S cash logistics company’s warehouse in Stockholm, using a helicopter. (Millions of crowns were just flying around.) The novel tells the story of the preparation and the heist. The greater part of the book, that naturally centering around the preparations, can be described, well, at most, with the term moderately interesting.

It’s not as exciting and twisty as the heist genre would dictate; that mostly applies to the action part. However, “The Helicopter Heist” is still enjoyable because the characters are very well-crafted. These guys are criminals, but they’ve been made so interesting and even likable that, darn it, you start rooting for them to succeed.

The police subplot seems a bit unnecessary; it mostly hangs in the air – i mean, near THAT helicopter. Although there’s this police girl, Miss Thurn, and you find yourself rooting for her a bit too.

The closing chapter, framing the story, is totally meaningless and unnecessary. It feels like Bonnier just added it to his book as an end in itself.

However, if you’ve read the book, you must find out what happened to the guys. And you need to do it yourself, a-deary me, because instead of the usual way of closing this type of book, it’s missing from the end. (See: Wikipedia: Västberga helicopter robbery)

7.5/10 (75%)

416 pages, Paperback
Published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Canada

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver – Book Review

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver - Book Cover

Maybe you’re already drooling in anticipation because this seems like one of those dark and gloomy crime novels, similar to what Dennis Lehane usually writes. And indeed, it starts off well; you immediately empathize with David Raker after his great tragedy, and you might even grow fond of this innocent good-hearted soul. The investigation is okay, with a few minor bumps in the dialogues (- Yes? – Yes. – Really? – Really. – But are you sure, really sure?)

Especially because you get a downright deranged opponent who scares the crap out of you. So much so that you don’t even notice that many of the characters seem rather odd. For example, amid some grumbling, they readily betray their well-paying clients for a measly 200 pounds or – and this is even more interesting – UNEXPECTEDLY end their own lives.

Then the investigation turns into action, and you think, well, it’s still okay, around 7/10. And exactly at this point, when Raker should call the cops because he understands this case has grown beyond him, you realize that Tim Weaver, the author, probably took a little break while writing. Not too much, just enough to travel to an illegal clinic in Thailand and have his left brain hemisphere responsible for rationality removed. But the whole thing.

From this point on, Raker uncovers THE DUMBEST CONSPIRACY IN THE WORLD (see The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu as the second dumbest), where participants, out of pure good intentions, want to help others by subjecting them to brainwashing. If someone doesn’t like that they want to help him, they kill him. If anyone gets close to them who is not a prospective patient, they also kill him – all the while littering half of England with corpses to ERASE their own tracks. Meanwhile, their terrified, brainwashed, religious fanatic ex-abuse victims (drug addicts and criminals) infiltrate the HIGHEST levels of the English administration and police. To spy. I must say, they really don’t lack confidence!

The diabolical evil turns out to be a Garden-variety psychopath (Tedious, very tedious.) – And about Raker, that he’s an pathetic idiot who shoots his opponent in the leg, then starts running away from his limping pursuer. Yes, yes, you guessed it right: THE MAN SHOT IN THE LEG eventually sets a trap for Raker and CAPTURES him.

And then there are still fifty pages left, who knows why, because pretty much everything has been figured out. Well, because the author, Tim Weaver, let’s remember THIS NAME!!!, probably came to the realization that this half a brain is still too much for him. So, he made another visit to that specific clinic in Thailand and had the remaining creativity removed from his right brain hemisphere. One can only imagine what this poor guy came up with with just a quarter of a brain…

4/10

Chasing the Dead (David Raker #1) by Tim Weaver
304 pages, Paperback
Published July 19, 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly – Book Review

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly book review

Detective Harry Bosch seems to have taken down the wrong serial killer instead of the evil Dollmaker four years ago. The accidentally shot serial killer’s broken and grieving family sues Harry in a jiffy, who acted with fundamentally good intentions. And, wouldn’t you know it, a new victim emerges. UNLUCKY.

From this point, events unfold on two fronts. The lawyer of the grief-stricken family puts the squeeze on Harry’s balls in the courtroom. (She’s evil. A driven bitch!*), while the other thread involves the police investigation into the case of the new victim, the concrete blonde. (The term “concrete” refers to both the victim’s final resting place and, in trucking slang, his profession.)

Connelly, who was a crime reporter for the Los Angeles TIMES for years, doesn’t disappoint. BOTH storylines are exciting and full of twists. For instance, I only figured out who the killer was on page 209, a few pages before Harry does, and, UNLUCKY for both of us, we were wrong. 🙁

What somewhat mars the overall picture is the last 50 pages: the process of how Harry reaches the perpetrator doesn’t organically follow the investigation. Furthermore, luring the killer into a trap bears a resemblance to “The Mentalist” TV series – generally not the most elegant solution. However, despite this, it’s still one of the best crime series you can read lately (considering that the Jack Reacher and Harry Hole series are gently descending).

The author has been my absolute favorite crime writer for about 15 years. Pieces of Connelly’s Bosch series belong to the few books that are genuinely IMPOSSIBLE to stop reading.

And in this installment, there’s even a very nice romantic thread that carries over from the previous book.

8.5/10

The Concrete Blonde (Harry Bosch #3) by Michael Connelly
448 pages, Paperback
Published January 1, 2014 by Orion

*an elegant reference to the game Jagged Alliance 2

The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg – Book Review

The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg - Book Cover

If you go by the title* and look forward to some overheated emotions and romantic squabbles, you’re out of luck because this is just a thriller; there’s hardly any love in it—numerically expressed, precisely: 0.

There isn’t really a classic crime thread (whodunit) in it. You can follow the power struggle between two criminal interest groups and the investigation of the police looking into one of the companies. Moreover, there are too many characters introduced at the beginning, making it difficult to follow the parallel events. But then the picture becomes clearer.

On another note, it’s challenging to connect with the main characters since each of them seems a bit bland. The blandest of them all is Hector, the Andalusian lover himself. In the second half of Söderberg’s book, the balance shifts, and the least sympathetic characters take center stage. The police also handle the investigation increasingly strangely, so you can only look at it with suspicion: Something is rotten in the state of Swedenmark. Several threads simply disappear into thin air (e.g., Jens, one of the best characters), and if you pay close attention, you may notice that the motivations of several characters are questionable, to say the least. (Hector’s decision regarding Sophie seems completely contrived.)

However, if you don’t pay closer attention, you’ll get a reasonably average but fair crime novel, and it’s guaranteed that if you reach the end, you’ll be interested enough in the fate of the characters to grab the next volume.

7/10

The Andalucian Friend (Brinkmann Trilogy #1) by Alexander Söderberg
464 pages, Paperback
Published May 1, 2014 by Vintage

* The Andalusian Friend was published in Hungary as Andalusian Lover.