John Sanford: Escape Clause

John Sanford’s latest thriller is a Virgil Flowers novel. Virgil Flowers works for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, employed as a detective working out of Mankato. We often find him towing his boat behind his pickup with Lindy rigs in the tackle box, ready to take on the wily walleye whenever one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes is between where he is and where he’s headed. Flowers works Southwest Minnesota for BCA so we know his turf pretty well.

This time, the crime is the theft of two Amur tigers from the Minnesota state zoo. The evil doers plan the heist with inside help and execute very well. The Amurs are rare and beloved creatures to many so there is much consternation around this theft and Flowers is put on the case full time. Through Flowers investigative efforts, we learn the bad guys intend to butcher animals for their “medicinal” value in the Asian marketplace and have a standing offer of $250,000 for the processed animals. Bit by bit, Flowers unwinds the puzzle and locates the bad guys who are more than a little wacked out having murdered three folks who get in their way.

Sanford nearly always has at least one female bad guy in his stories and Escape Clause is no exception. This particular lady stands up in her sunroof and shoots up the vehicle of one of Flowers suspects. Other side plots involve Virgil’s girlfriend getting beaten up and his neighbor being firebombed (they got the wrong house in the dark). A family of six Iranian brothers show up to avenge the death of a seventh brother and continue to pop up in their RV from time to time. So lots of action, much of it bizarre in classic Sanford fashion.

Does John Sanford’s Escape Clause survive my acid test for a good read? You bet. As always, Sandford’s work is a real page turner and it’s hard to beat a book title that is a pun.

 

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Pirate: Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell

Pirate is Clive Cussler’s latest, a Sam and Remi Fargo adventure, co-authored by Robin Burcell. As Cussler fans know, Mr. Cussler is lead writer of many of his books, Cusslerizing the writing of others well know for works of their own. Grant Blackwood, Russell Blake, Robin Burcell, and Thomas Perry have all co-authored one or more of the Fargo’s adventures.

Pirate is a treasure hunting tale featuring the Fargos, a wealthy husband and wife team with a knack for research and the discovery of long lost treasures. Funds are never a problem for the globetrotting Fargos.  Back at the ranch in La Jolla, they employ a research team with access to fabulous resources, with Selma Wondrash as the lead researcher, booker of travel arraignments and general go-to person who lubes the way for the Fargo’s success. Fargo adventures share a sense of light banter and by-play between the Fargos that makes the stories a bit softer than other Cussler series books.

The tale opens with a version of the story of the loss of King John’s treasure, a vast fortune in valuables, coins and crown jewels. This sets the stage for the hunt. We meet the Fargos in San Francisco’s China Town where they are searching for a copy of Pyrates and Privateers at Pickering’s Used and Rare Books. Immediately, they are confronted by a minion of Charles Avery, a corporate raider, salvage expert and all-around bad guy who also is searching for King Johns treasure.

As is typical in the Fargo adventures, Sam and Remi bounce from one spot on the globe to another running down clues at the sharp end of the stick, feeding Selma info she synthesizes into practical next steps. In Pirate, they hit Jamaica, Oak Island off of Halifax, Snake Island off Brazil, and Great Britain in their search for King John’s treasure. The Fargos find themselves one step behind Charles Avery most of the time.

The exciting conclusion occurs underground (as is often the case in Clive Cussler’s stories), this time in caves under the city of London. There they fight a final battle with the evil Charles Avery and his troops and of course, find the treasure.

Another in the long series (17 to be precise) of Clive Cussler’s New York Times best sellers, this is an action packed adventure studded with bits of history, geography and light romance between the Fargos. Did I want to keep reading? Yes!

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C. J. Box: Endangered

 

This novel is another in the Joe Pickett series. Joe Pickett works for the State of Wyoming as a Game and Fish officer out of Absaroka county, where he lives with his wife Marybeth and daughters April, Sheridan and Lucy. Family friend Nate Romanowski makes an appearance as does Wyoming Governor Rulon. Romanowski is a family friend, a falconer and a dangerous fellow, while Rulon both makes demands on Joe Pickett and runs interference for him.

The story opens with the discovery of a destroyed lek, or nesting flock of sage grouse. Governor Rulon sees the grouse a revenue source for Wyoming like pheasants in South Dakota and wants Joe to get to the bottom of it.

Barely into this, Joe gets a call from the hospital saying his daughter April was found beaten and unconscious and is now in a coma. In short order, Joe learns his friend Nate Romanowski has been ambushed and torn up with buckshot and is also hospitalized and undergoing surgeries to remove the shot.

The sage grouse and Mr. Romanowski become side plots sort of balanced like buckets of water over a door, waiting to avalanche into the story-line as appropriate while finding what happened to April takes priority.

April has been dating handsome bull rider Dallas Cates, and Joe’s search for Aprils assailant leads him to the Cate compound and septic service. The Cates are to say the least, a freaky bunch but adept at manipulation and put Joe off the trail briefly. As the story unfolds and April’s situation begins to resolve, Box kicks the props out from under the grouse and Romanowski story lines and they plunge into the story too.

C. J. Box is an adept writer and a grand story teller. He seldom misses an opportunity to poke recalcitrant bureaucrats for their puffery and I like that about him. Did I want to keep reading? With C. J. Box, always.

 

Endangered, C. J. Box – $5.00

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William Kent Krueger: Northwest Angle

 

This story by regional author William Kent Krueger takes place on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. The date is July 4th, 1999. A rare weather system called a derecho produces straight line winds of over one hundred miles per hour in a broad swath across the lake. The result is the great Boundary Waters blow-down.

The story focuses on the Cork O’Conner family. Cork and his daughter Jenny are out on the lake when the storm hits. Cork maneuvers his launch in the lee of an island and they ride out the storm, then seek shelter on the island. While on the island, Jenny stumbles across a rude shelter inhabited by a young woman (dead) and an infant (alive). While on the island they are confronted by a man who is clearly searching for the inhabitants of the shelter and who is armed with a rifle. By the skin of their teeth, Cork and Jenny escape the rifleman and return to their resort with the infant in hand.

Since Lake of the Woods straddles the US/Canada border, someone with intimate knowledge of the lake and a fast boat can move goods between countries. Soon the O’Conners learn the rifleman at the island is likely Noah Smalldog, a rogue member of the Ojibwe band who is involved in smuggling.

Following reports of a fast boat docking at night at Stump Island, the O’Conners explore the island. There they meet members of the Church of the Seven Trumpets, a cult building a citadel on the island against end times which the Seven Trumpet folks say are coming soon. The O’Conners find themselves unwelcome and are run off the island.

In the meantime, Jenny falls in love with the infant and is fearful that Noah Smalldog is searching for the child. The story unfolds not unlike a Nancy Drew mystery, with appropriate twists and turns. Who is Noah Smalldog really? What are those Seven Trumpets people up to on Stump Island? Will Jenny be able to keep little Rabbit (as they call the baby)? The tale combines a blend of Christian and Ojibwe faith and philosophy. William Kent Krueger pens a great story and tells it well. The pacing is good and there is plenty to keep one’s attention. Did I want to read on? I sure did.

Northwest Angle: William Kent Krueger $7.50

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  • Dave

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is J. K. Rowling’s latest (and last) Harry Potter offering. Based on a new story by Rowling with John Tiffany (playwright) and Jack Thorne (director) Rowling presents the final Harry Potter story as a play. The play is written (and performed) in two parts and is currently in production in Great Brittan, with negotiations underway for Toronto and New York performances.

Harry Potter fans will recall Harry’s arch nemesis Voldemort has promised to return victorious by causing Harry’s demise. The story revolves around this promise and schemes hatched by various interested parties to disrupt Voldemort’s plans for a triumphant return (including preemptively killing Harry).

Nineteen years have passed and Harry, now thirty, is married (with children) to Ginny Beasly and Ron Beasly to Hermione Granger. Harry has a son, Albus. Dracos Malfoy has a son the same age, Scorpius. Everything starts at the train station, where at platform 9 3/4 , the Hogwarts Express is loading students attending Hogwart, a school for children of magicians. On this train ride, Albus and Scorpius meet and become good friends. Albus feels very much in the shadow of his famous dad and he and his dad do not see eye to eye. At school, Albus is chosen for Slytherin, the house of the snake and of dark magic and a major break with family tradition.

Albus and Scorpius come across a time travel gizmo, but it’s only a prototype and can only transport for five minutes. The boys use it in an effort to set right a perceived wrong, but produce unintended consequences. So of course they double down and time travel to fix what they broke the first time. And produce an even bigger mess.

In the end, all the old players hook up, Harry and Hermione, Ron and Ginny, Dracos Malfoy, and Albus and Scorpius to battle Voldemort one more time.

Did I want to read on? It’s Rowling, so yes, of course. It’s a good tale, full of twists and turns and lots of magic. That said, Rowling has assured audiences that the play would contain an entirely new story and will not be a rehashing of previously explored content. It seems a hard promise to keep while retaining most of the same characters and setting. If you want to read an entirely new story by Rowling pen, I suggest the Cormoran Strike series under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: J. K. Rowling – $15.00

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-Dave

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is J. K. Rowling’s latest (and last) Harry Potter offering. Based on a new story by Rowling with John Tiffany (playwright) and Jack Thorne (director) Rowling presents the final Harry Potter story as a play. The play is written (and performed) in two parts and is currently in production in Great Brittan, with negotiations underway for Toronto and New York performances.

Harry Potter fans will recall Harry’s arch nemesis Voldemort has promised to return victorious by causing Harry’s demise. The story revolves around this promise and schemes hatched by various interested parties to disrupt Voldemort’s plans for a triumphant return (including preemptively killing Harry).

Nineteen years have passed and Harry, now thirty, is married (with children) to Ginny Beasly and Ron Beasly to Hermione Granger. Harry has a son, Albus. Dracos Malfoy has a son the same age, Scorpius. Everything starts at the train station, where at platform 9 3/4 , the Hogwarts Express is loading students attending Hogwart, a school for children of magicians. On this train ride, Albus and Scorpius meet and become good friends. Albus feels very much in the shadow of his famous dad and he and his dad do not see eye to eye. At school, Albus is chosen for Slytherin, the house of the snake and of dark magic and a major break with family tradition.

Albus and Scorpius come across a time travel gizmo, but it’s only a prototype and can only transport for five minutes. The boys use it in an effort to set right a perceived wrong, but produce unintended consequences. So of course they double down and time travel to fix what they broke the first time. And produce an even bigger mess.

In the end, all the old players hook up, Harry and Hermione, Ron and Ginny, Dracos Malfoy, and Albus and Scorpius to battle Voldemort one more time.

Did I want to read on? It’s Rowling, so yes, of course. It’s a good tale, full of twists and turns and lots of magic. That said, Rowling has assured audiences that the play would contain an entirely new story and will not be a rehashing of previously explored content. It seems a hard promise to keep while retaining most of the same characters and setting. If you want to read an entirely new story by Rowling pen, I suggest the Cormoran Strike series under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: J. K. Rowling – $15.00

J. K. Rowling at the Book Shop

Children’s books at the Book Shop

  • Dave

Brad Meltzer: The House of Secrets

In Brad Meltzers latest, The House of Secrets, our narrator, Hazel Nash, wakes up in a hospital after eight days in a coma and is told she has been in a devastating car accident in which her father died. As she recovers, she learns her brain’s amygdala has been damaged: she no longer has a sense of taste and she has no memory of any relationships. As such, she fits the unreliable narrator role, since she cannot dredge up memories, she can only surmise. As readers, we are forced to rely on her memories which are faulty at best. Hazel’s nick-name is Haze and haze is very much the vibe of the book.

When Hazel wakes up in the hospital, she becomes immediately aware of FBI agent Trevor Rabkin who is waiting in the hallway for her to wake up. He claims to have worked with her father, but he has questions about her father’s activities, his demise and he questions Hazel’s role and that of her brother Skip in all that has happened. His character feels confrontational and adversarial. There is something to be turned up, but Hazel has no idea what that might be.

Her brother, Skip Nash, is in her (new) life and is able to convince her that he is in fact her brother. Skip is able to fill Hazel in on certain facts about Jack Nash, their father. Jack Nash traveled the globe researching and staring in a conspiracy TV show named House of Secrets which enjoyed decades of popularity. From a young age, Skip traveled with his dad as Jack globe-trotted for his TV show. So his relationship with their dad is much different than Hazel’s ever was.

The tale centers on an historic conspiracy story about Benedict Arnold’s bible, and Jack Nash’s search for it and for pages missing from it. Nothing is as it seems, neither Skip nor Rabkin are telling all they know. Hazel must renegotiate all relationships and work to understand who she is and who she was. I won’t be giving away much to note she dumps hot sauce on her food since some sensation seems to her to be better than none.

Did I want to keep reading? Oddly enough, since I am often put off by unreliable narrators, yes I did. Meltzer keeps you guessing even more than usual.

The House of Secrets: Brad Meltzer – $14.00

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-Dave

Clive Cussler’s latest book from the Oregon series: The Emperor’s Revenge

Another of the Oregon files series co written with Boyd Morrison, this is a rip-roaring high-tech tale of adventure on the high seas with the crew of the Oregon. If you don’t know the series, the Oregon is a tramp steamer which has a rough, rusty, neglected appearance up top but fitted with the latest of navel high tech, armament and luxury accommodation below decks by a rogue Russian shipyard.

The Corporation, which operates the Oregon is a loose band of professionals whose makeup changes to fit the latest project. At times, skills include communications, computer hacking, deep sea diving and submersibles, a four star culinary chef, explosives experts, a document and cover shop, chopper and drone piloting and of course boat driving. The Corporation takes on projects from those who can afford the bill, but retains a strong sense of being on the good-guy side of things. The players take the projects on spec for a cut of the profit.

A band of very sophisticated Russian bad guys have their eye on plunging the European economy into chaos by damaging key elements of the power grid in Europe to cause a cascade failure of the grid. They have their own top notch hacker who opens the game by denying access to account holders at the Monaco bank where the Corporation has its considerable resources. Of course, this cannot stand.

Where does the Emperor come in? The emperor in question is Napoleon Bonaparte. During his Russian campaign, Napoleon drove the world’s largest standing army to Moscow but the Russians employed their infamous scorched earth policy: destroy shelter and food to deny Napoleon’s army any forage and the Russian winter would defeat him. He retreated with a tiny fraction of his troops through Lithuania.  The Russians did leave behind treasure, however, and Napoleon’s horse troops carried it out, hiding it somewhere along the retreat route.

A parallel story emerges as NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency – another of Mr. Cussler’s mainstays) gets wind of the existence of Napoleon’s diary (which is written in Greek and in code). NUMA becomes aware of a Rosetta Stone like obelisk to decode the diary and there is a race between the good guys and the bad guys to be in possession of the diary and the obelisk so as to identify the location of the buried treasure.

As sophisticated as the good guy’s armament is, the bad guy’s ship is even better armed.  Their war ship sports a steerable laser capable of taking an aircraft out of the sky and a rail gun that launches devastating projectiles fifteen miles at 6000 miles per hour. So when they meet on the high seas, it’s tactics that win the day. The good guy’s find themselves one step behind all the way, victims of indirection and careful planning by the bad guys.

The ending is dramatic and split second close. Did I want to keep reading? Oh yeah.

-Dave

The Emperor’s Revenge             Clive Cussler – $14.50

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Greg Iles: Natchez Burning

Greg Iles writes of Dixie as a place where the past is never really past. In this thriller, Penn Cage, a lawyer and mayor of Natchez, Mississippi struggles with a tangle of small town issues involving family, racial divide, and the KKK and others who take even more extreme positions on race relations.

Penn’s father Tom Cage, a beloved local physician whose practice knows no racial boundaries, fathered a child by a black employee in her twenties. Viola Turner departs to Chicago where she raises their child on a modest stipend from Tom. The tension between Tom’s unacknowledged love child and Tom Cage pervades the story. No one’s hands are clean.

The existence of a splinter group of KKK members who style themselves the Double Eagles is an open secret in Natchez. For the Double Eagles, the KKK was far too passive. Murder and mayhem are the Double Eagles calling cards and nothing is too extreme. Brody Royal, the leader of the Double Eagles and a successful business man has statewide political contacts and cronies in the leadership of the state highway patrol. There is no limit to the lengths Brody Royal and the Double Eagles will go to ensure the past remains buried. Only the Adams county sheriff is free of Brody Royal’s influence and positioned to support Penn Cage.

When Viola Turner returns to Natchez dying of cancer and in pain, she turns to Tom Cage for a dignified death. Tom is prepared to ease Viola’s remaining days, but the Double Eagles learn of Viola’s return and inject her with a lethal dose of pain killer then frame Tom for murder. Penn rushes to his father’s defense, but Tom’s guilt over the affair renders him unwilling to communicate with his son.

Penn’s girlfriend, Caitlin, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her father’s chain of papers and a tough aggressive agent for change. She teams up with Henry Sexton, publisher of the local Natchez paper to expose the Double Eagles and Brody Royal. Penn is torn between his loyalty to Caitlin and his desire to keep his father alive and out of jail.

Did I want to keep reading? The story is dark and was difficult for me to read at times. But Greg Iles writes masterfully with gut wrenching twists and turns all the way along, and the ending is thrilling if gruesome, so yes it’s a real page turner.

-Dave

Natchez Burning: Greg Iles – $8.50

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John Sandford’s latest: Extreme Prey

Sandford’s latest takes us on a romp through Southeast Iowa. Lucas Davenport – Sandford’s main character – is now a civilian having left employment as a police officer with the State of Minnesota.  Governor Henderson of Minnesota reaches out to Lucas to help solve a problem. Liberal Democrat Michela Bowden in Iowa is running for President and Henderson believes she will eventually select him as running mate. Henderson has caught wind of a threat on Bowden’s life and wants Lucas to get to the bottom of it.

Lucas drives down to Iowa and quickly finds out that he must adjust his approach to detecting since he is working in another state without a badge, weapon or the level authority and access to which he is accustomed. Lots of doors get slammed, both with civilians and with Iowa law enforcement. Never the less, he pokes around and learns of the existence of a group of local folks who are the collected disenfranchised from across the decades. Some had been involved in a bombing of a dairy in the 60’s, some were stripped of their farms through foreclosure during the 80’s, and some are conspiracy wingnuts, blaming Jews or the Government for everything that has gone wrong in their lives.

Lucas obtains a list of the 180 odd members of this alliance and he and others begin interviewing folks on the list. Bowden is adamant that she must make an official appearance at the Iowa State fair in Des Moines, if only for the press. With 100,000 daily attendees, this excursion promises to be a logistics nightmare for Bowden’s security, so the pressure is on for Lucas to uncover the details of the plot and the identity of the bad guys. Davenport gets on his Sherlock Holmes freek, eliminating the impossible to find a small group of could-have-done-its.

Marlys Purdy and her son are on the hot list and time is running short. The media walk at the State fair is just 24 hours away but Lucas is still ticking off possibles. Lucas finally locks on the Purdy’s and the venue, but still has no idea what is being planned.  We get a really great tour of the Iowa State Fair, including the animal barns and wiener schnitzel on-a-stick, but tensions run high as Lucas and the Iowa law enforcement community struggle to respond to an undefined threat and to protect Bowden come what may.

Classic Sandford. The story is compelling and regional, taking place around Cedar Rapids, and so is full of familiar place names (Marlys lives north of Pella). You’ll get no spoilers from me, but Davenport may get re-badged.  Did I want to keep reading? Yes, always. Great stuff.

John Sandford: Extreme Prey – $14.45

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-Dave