City on Fire by Don Winslow – Book Review

City on Fire by Don Winslow – Book Cover

The Godfather – in Miniature

Don Winslow’s mafia novel, City on Fire, is essentially a watered-down version of The Godfather. Most of the motifs present in that classic novel appear here as well, such as:

• Mafia family wars over territory
• The unifying strength of family and blood ties
• The issue of succession, where the heir is, of course, not the most suitable candidate
• The drug trade as the path to big money, with the promise of big downfall

Since The Godfather is such a magnificent and unparalleled novel, you might be inclined to settle for even a reduced version, especially when it comes from the pen of Don Winslow, the author of the monumental The Power of the Dog trilogy. This time, with Irish and Italian mobsters clashing.

Small-Town Gangsters

Okay, but still. The fact that City on Fire is set in Providence, Rhode Island, also known as Dogtown, somehow diminishes initial expectations. Providence, squeezed between New York and Boston, is small and insignificant in comparison. Prostitution, gambling, and the docks are the main sources of money around there.

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The Last Move by Mary Burton – Book Review

The Last Move by Mary Burton – Book Cover

Mary Burton is the author of dozens of romance novels. This fact alone might scare off many crime readers from picking up The Last Move. However, if you enjoy living dangerously, go ahead and give it a try.

The Last Move: A Decent Serial Killer Thriller

If you’ve already read a thousand crime novels where some vicious madmen is murdering innocent American citizens, it might be hard to surprise you. Mary Burton doesn’t really manage to do so either. But that’s not necessarily a problem, as it doesn’t seem to be her goal.

There’s a minor hiccup, though: theoretically, the Samaritan is already behind bars, but we’ve seen enough copycats, mentees trained by serial killers, or wrongly convicted criminals. It’s up to Dr. Hayden and Mazur to figure out which category the Samaritan falls into.

Minimal Romance Factor

Naturally, the protagonists have to work together. And here Burton surprises us: neither of them is unbearable, they don’t hate each other, and they don’t immediately want to rip each other’s clothes off. Instead, they work together excellently. Both are smart and dedicated, so it’s no wonder they develop a mutual attraction, right?

No.

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Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman – Book Review

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman – Book Cover

Have you been waiting for, and so far in vain, a crime novel similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which once sparked the renaissance of Scandinavian crime fiction? If so, Gustaf Skördeman’s Geiger, the introductory novel in his series, might catch your eye. After all, it lures you in with this exact promise on the cover. (At least on the Hungarian* edition.) But what if this only makes your disappointment all the more bitter?

Sara Nowak is not a captivating character

No. She’s a mom. She’s not tattooed either. But she does struggle with anger management issues. This isn’t very useful for a police officer. And, naturally, not for a mother either. In fact, Sara Nowak is quite embarrassing as a mom. She’s the typical overprotective, constantly lecturing person who wants to guide her kids as a moral compass. No wonder they kind of hate her. (You’d hate her too if you were all turned on and went on PronHub to, uh, broaden your horizons a bit, and she barged in to tell you it was immoral towards women.)

Nowak, as a police officer, likes to rough up suspects who indeed deserve it, but how stupid is it to do this constantly in front of witnesses? Is this woman crazy?!

Moreover, despite being a trained martial artist, she somehow always ends up on the losing side in real-life situations.

Ah, damn it!

And why on earth does a lousy vice cop meddle in someone else’s investigation anyway?

So, Gustaf Skördeman didn’t quite pull this off. It’s simply impossible to like Sara Nowak, the main character. Maybe by the very end of Geiger, just a little bit. Perhaps.

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – Book Review

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel - Book Cover

After achieving worldwide fame with “Station Eleven,” St. John Mandel waited six years to release her next book. Achieving worldwide fame, obviously, might be like winning a Nobel Prize. Afterward, it’s somehow harder to concentrate on writing. Finding topics becomes more difficult, everything seems to progress slower. In the case of “The Glass Hotel,” it’s not easy to determine what it’s actually about. Because it’s definitely not about a glass hotel.

Is The Glass Hotel just a transparent trick?

Emily St. John Mandel’s book is like listening to a classical music piece. Certain themes, or rather characters, recur throughout, seemingly randomly. One character takes the spotlight at one point, another at another. Some only gain prominence in the final third of the novel, while others appear at the beginning and merely reappear towards the end.

The titular location, the Hotel Caiette, stands in the forest in a secluded cove on Vancouver Island, Canada. It’s only accessible by boat. (It seems they skipped the preliminary market research before construction.) Thirty percent of the book’s characters work here (some only for a fleeting moment), 10 percent are occasional guests, and 5 percent are owners who don’t participate in managing the hotel but have a stake in it for investment purposes.

Alright, ‘The Glass Hotel’ isn’t such a bad title after all, even though the book is much more about the psychology of financial investments.

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On Target by Mark Greaney – Book Review

On Target by Mark Greaney – Book Cover

Mark Greaney’s Gray Man book series received a new boost when Netflix produced a film (IMDb) based on the first book with a substantial budget. It’s a shame the movie didn’t turn out too well. Perhaps because the book it’s based on wasn’t that great either? (There’s a chance.) Let’s see how the second installment, “On Target,” fares.

Courtland Gentry, alias the Gray Man, a hired assassin. It’s not the best profession in the world, by any means, but one can’t be too choosy. Especially when his former employer, the CIA, puts him on a hit list. The Gray Man is thus forced to kill people of various other colors for his daily bread. His latest assignment takes him to Sudan, where the ruthless dictator, President Bakri Abbud is really starting to push the genocide way too far.

But even before the protagonist heads to Africa, the introduction of “On Target” makes it clear that the Gray Man is the most compassionate hitman in the whole world.

The Gray Man is the most compassionate hitman in the world!

This is not a joke! It’s a well-known fact that among those who kill for money, there are remarkably many noble and kind employee. For whom it’s a basic rule to only deal with evil targets. (See: Stephen King: Billy Summers.) However, Mark Greaney’s protagonist stands out even among them for his compassion. When he sits down to have a chat over a few shots (of whiskey) with his next target (another hitman, who is not as kind-hearted), you can’t help but sympathize with the latter’s personal issues. The Gray Man feels the same way. You practically have to choke him to bring out a little callousness.

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When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham – Book Review

When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham - Book Cover

Michael Robotham, the Australian author of the Joseph O’Loughlin series, enjoys stimulating his own mind with standalone novels. However, reading about the adventures of policewoman Philomena McCarthy, it quickly becomes apparent right from the beginning of the book that this lady herself could easily handle an entire series. With his book “When You Are Mine,” Robotham adds to the lineup of strong female characters who seem to have been created for crime novel protagonists.

Do you hate those miserable cops? If you didn’t before, you’ll hate those bastards by the end of the book! Philomena McCarthy is just a simple patrolwoman, but guided by her own sense of justice, she stands up against anyone to protect the innocent. Now, who do you think is that dirty, rotten scoundrel, terrorizing both his wife and mistress, who clashes with Philomena?

Another cop.

Moreover, all his scumbag buddies rally behind him without a second thought. Of course, they’re all cops too. Heck, even the other cops who aren’t his buddies side with him. And they all behave in a really scummy way towards the girl.

Michael Robotham’s book makes you suddenly realize (besides making you hate the fuzz) that your blood pressure is through the roof, and you need to take breaks constantly just to calm down.

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Deadly Class – Vol. 7: Love Like Blood by by Rick Remender · Wes Craig – Comic Book Review

Deadly Class – Vol. 7: Love Like Blood by by Rick Remender · Wes Craig - Comic Book Cover

If you were a school psychologist at the King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, you would definitely be stuffing benzodiazepines into your own mouth by the handful. Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s Deadly Class seems perfect for apprentice assassins at first glance, but in reality, it wouldn’t work.

A high school for the children of criminals? Where students trained for killing roam armed?! Come on!

You’ve probably heard of the dramaturgical principle that if a loaded gun appears on stage, sooner or later it will be fired. Well, for those attending the assassin class, firing the gun – with classmates in the crosshairs – is part of the prescribed curriculum.

The King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts is essentially a psychopath training ground, which would only work until the first freshly graduated seniors returned home to mommy and daddy. However, instead of a resourceful karate champion, ninja, or commando, the parents could welcome home unpredictable wrecks devoid of any human emotions. Afterward, dissatisfied ancestors from all over the world would flock to San Francisco to demand a refund of tuition… and incidentally, to chop the entire teaching staff into tiny pieces.

Rick Remender, the master of the most unbelievable twists, organizes a class trip to Mexico in the seventh part of the Deadly Class. And you, the reader, are supposed to believe that Marcus, one of the most repulsive protagonists in comic literature, successfully takes on a group of Yakuza. Man, he got expelled! Not to mention that he only attended for a year, most of which he was totally high on drugs!

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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.

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A Caller’s Game by J. D. Barker – Book Review

Caller’s Game book cover

Jordan Briggs, a radio host with a penchant for stirring controversy, receives a live call from Bernie, a caller armed with a significant amount of exploitable explosive material. However, Bernie doesn’t like to decide alone what things to blow up. Jordan’s show becomes an explosive success. Will J. D. Barker’s book, “A Caller’s Game” achieve the same success?

If you’ve read Barker’s “Four Monkey Killer” series, you’ll immediately notice that “A Caller’s Game” lacks the complexity and often overly convoluted plot structure. “A Caller’s Game” is on the opposite end, a straightforward thriller mostly set in a single location.

If you’ve seen the movie “Die Hard,” you can expect a similar experience: a skyscraper, terrorists, a bomb, and a cop perfectly positioned to take on the jerk Bernie. Plus, live broadcasting on the radio. Minus Christmas.

“A Caller’s Game” would work well as an action film, except everyone would compare it to “Die Hard,” and it would quickly fade away.

Barker’s book is perfectly bland. The male protagonist, Cole Hundley, is woodenly simple, a typical good guy. Jordan doesn’t get much more depth. Although Barker provides sharp insights at the beginning, portraying Jordan as a sharp-minded, confident media personality, nevertheless, the woman finds it very difficult to make herself likable.

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Cari Mora by Thomas Harris – Book Review

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris – Book Cover

Cari Mora isn’t just tough, but sexy too

Thomas Harris’s protagonist, Cari Mora, a former child soldier from Colombia and current Miami Beach hottie, is the caretaker of Pablo Escobar’s old villa. The meticulous and careful Pablo once hid $25 million worth of gold in the mansion. The mafia and a despicable German psychopath, whose hobby is organ trafficking, are both vying for the gold. (Cari Mora has no such plans; she simply wants to be a veterinarian.)

Thomas Harris has returned with a renewed style of novel – as you’ll gather from the blurb. As for why, only God knows, because there was nothing wrong with the old style: The Silence of the Lambs was almost as good in book form as the brilliant film made from it. This new style means the whole thing is a bit flatter and more superficial. And faster-paced – perhaps due to changing reader preferences or maybe because it’s much easier to write a book this way.

Thomas Harris seems to have forgotten how to write a good novel

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