Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘terrorists’

THE PROMISE by Robert Crais: Book Review

Elvis Cole, the private investigator who is the protagonist of many of Robert Crais’ crime novels, has a very mysterious client.  Meryl Lawrence comes to him with a strange request–she wants him to find her colleague, Amy Breslyn, who has been missing for a couple of days, but she insists that the search must be conducted in complete secrecy.

She hands Elvis two thousand dollars in cash, an address for a friend of the missing woman’s late son, and a personnel file that she believes will help locate Amy.  Meryl’s desire for secrecy is so over-the-top that she won’t even come to Elvis’ office; instead, they meet in a parking lot behind a book store in Pasadena.

Both Amy and Meryl work at Woodson Energy Solutions, a chemical firm where Amy is employed as an engineer.  Meryl tells Elvis that because their work is classified, no indication of his investigation must get out and insists that Elvis make this promise.  “Swear to me.  Swear you won’t breathe a word.”  “I promise.” Bound by his word, Elvis is finding it increasingly difficult to probe into Amy’s disappearance.

Amy’s only son Jacob was a photographer who was killed, along with thirteen other people, by a terrorist explosion in Nigeria.  That was nearly a year and a half before the book opens, and since then Amy has become more and more reclusive.  Now she has disappeared.

Elvis goes to the address that Meryl has given him and is surprised to find it surrounded by Los Angeles police, with a helicopter overhead.  As he’s deciding how to handle the situation a man comes running out of the house, and Elvis gives chase.  He’s not able to catch him and is forced to stop when a policeman with a pistol confronts him.  Believing that Elvis has acted suspiciously, the cop puts him in a squad car without explanation.  But when Elvis sees the words on the police car he begins to understand what all the commotion is about:  they read Bomb Squad.

Cole is joined in the case by his long-time friend and colleague, Joe Pike, plus two relatively new characters to Elvis’ world:  Scott James and Jon Stone.  Scott is a former Marine who is presently a dog handler in the L. A. police department’s K-9 division; Jon Stone, a friend of Pike’s, is a former Delta Force member turned mercenary, with expertise in technology.  Together, the four men, with assistance from Scott’s dog Maggie, team up to find Amy Breslyn and solve the mystery surrounding her.

As always, it’s a delight to reconnect with Elvis Cole.  He’s a protagonist who has grown with the series, a fascinating man with his own set of quirks and strengths.  He is perfectly described by Raymond Chandler’s famous quote about mean streets (my edits):  “a man…who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  He is the hero; he is everything….If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”

You can read more about Robert Crais at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

NIGHTS OF AWE by Harri Nykänen: Book Review

There’s a wonderful new entry in the ever-growing world of Scandinavian detectives.  He’s Ariel Kafka, no relation to the famous Franz Kafka, but I believe Ariel will soon be famous in his own right.  He makes his English-language debut in Harri Nykänen’s novel, Nights of Awe, and there are three other books in the series yet to be translated.

Ariel is one of two Jewish detectives on the Helsinki police force.  And yes, there are Jews in Finland–1,500 of them at last count.

The book opens with two bodies found in the city, one on a bridge and the other on a slope beneath the bridge.  The two men are assumed to be foreigners and one is quickly identified as Ali Hamid, the owner of an auto body shop in the city.  When Ariel arrives at the shop, a third corpse is there.  Bodies are mounting quickly, and there are more to come.

Ariel narrates the novel with a wry sense of humor, even as the bodies pile up.  Describing how he had graduated only fourth in his class from the police academy, Ariel says, “…the burdens that Einstein and Oppenheimer had left for less brilliant Jews like myself had weighed heavily on me.”  Referring to receiving several invitations to dinner before the twenty-four hour fast of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur (the Night of Awe referred to in the title), Ariel says, “Evidently a Jewish man of my age who lived alone was a hopelessly pitiful case.” 

And speaking about his lack of romantic success, he reminisces about a three-year relationship he had that ended because the woman felt Jewish traditions were too difficult.  “A few years later she married a Kurd from Iraq and converted to Islam.”  You have to love someone who can tell these stories on himself.

As the corpses multiply, tensions rise between the police department and Finland’s Security Police.  These issues intensify when a theory involving the dead Muslim men seems to be connected to a threat against the Jewish house of worship, which will be hosting the Israeli foreign minister during the Jewish High Holy Days.  

Ariel is approached by his brother Eli and by Raoul Silberstein, chair of the Helsinki Jewish Congregation.  It appears that the men are involved in security matters at the synagogue, a fact that surprises Ariel, and Silberstein is demanding that Ariel tell them if the congregation is involved in the case.  But Ariel says he is under an oath of confidentiality about this case as with others and refuses, much to their dismay, to give them any information. 

In fact, when questioned earlier by the police commander whether his religion might stand in the way of his pursuing the murderers if they turn out to be Jewish, Ariel is offended.  “I’m first and foremost a police officer, second a Finn, and only third a Jew.”

Nights of Awe is an excellent read, particularly because of its glimpse into a little-known pocket of the Jewish world.  Ariel, Eli, and their uncle Dennis are vivid characters, and their thoughts and motives ring true.  The plot of Nights of Awe is a bit convoluted and the number of those murdered is perhaps excessively high, but the novel is well worth reading and thinking about.   

There are several sites about Harri Nykänen on the web, although there is not one dedicated exclusively to him.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



THE CROWDED GRAVE by Martin Walker: Book Review

A return to the French countryside of Dordogne is as pleasurable as always.  Going back to St. Denis seems in some ways a step back in time to a simpler, quieter life, with the village chief of police knowing everyone in town and interpreting the law in ways to make life more agreeable.  But things, even in this village, cannot stay so agreable, or else there would be no mystery to solve.

An international team of archaeologists has returned to St. Denis to finish excavating areas they had uncovered the year before.  Bruno Courreges, the village’s chief of police, gets a call from the team’s leader, Horst Vogelstern, to report the finding of a corpse buried in the field where the team is working.

“Congratulations.  Isn’t that what you wanted to find,” responds Bruno.  Yes, is Horst’s reply, but this corpse appears to be wearing a St. Christopher’s medal and a Swatch.

Other things are going on in St. Denis as well.  Two farms have been vandalized–one is a farm that breeds geese that are sold to make foie gras, the specialty of the region.  And to further complicate matters, there is a new magistrate who has been appointed to St. Denis, and she is anti-hunting and a vegetarian.  What were the powers-that-be thinking when they chose her?

In the midst of all the above, a summit is being held in town with ministers from France and Spain.  The goal is to reach an agreement between the two countries on the issue of Basque terrorism, a problem for both nations.  The Basques have been trying to establish a separate country in the northern part of Spain for fifty years, and there are areas of France that also have a substantial number of the ethnic minority.  There has always been Basque-related terrorism, but the incidents are increasing in number and getting more violent.

Bruno is also dealing with some personal problems.  His former lover, Isabelle, who left St. Denis for a very important position in Paris, will be returning as part of the security force for the summit.  The parting between Bruno and Isabelle was difficult on both sides.  Between her ambition and his attachment to his village, a combined future for them appears out of the question.  But that doesn’t negate the feelings on both sides.

Adding to that romantic mix is Bruno’s neighbor Pamela, an Englishwoman who has established a home in the village.  She and Bruno also have a relationship, but, like Isabelle, Pamela’s stay in St. Denis may not be a long one.

Martin Walker sets a beautiful scene in this novel, as in his previous ones.  He succeeds in making all his characters stand out and their love for their home totally understandable.  Anyone who is planning to go to France or who even merely dreams of visiting that country owes it to himself/herself to read the five novels  in the series.

Martin Walker is a journalist, historian, and author of several non-fiction books.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.