Author Archives: lakauz

Sting by Sandra Brown

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One of the perks of working in a library is getting recommendations from patrons on what they read and liked. Many of the novels that I have come to love the most were little gems that came from these suggestions, so when a number of library members with whom I normally share reading tastes said read “Sting” by Sandra Brown, I put it on my to-read list.  I’d read Sandra Brown years ago, when she was firmly in the romance or romantic suspense period of her career so I thought this would be more of the same and was delighted to find she’d carved out a great thriller, instead.

The novel begins with poised and polished Jordie Bennett in a seedy Southern bar, where she has attracted the attention of the bar patrons, especially two particular men.  Unknown to her, these men are hired assassins and she is their target.  Within a few pages, the hit has turned into a kidnapping as one of the killers, decides that rather than collecting a paltry sum for her death, he can shake her brother down for the 30 million in stolen mob money that he may have access to.  The story then twists into a neat little cat and mouse between Jordie and her kidnapper, Shaw Kinnard, a man with secrets of his own.  In this situation, Jordie must rely on her wits to survive.

“Sting” is like a roller coaster ride of a book, weaving happily in one direction before vering off somewhere completely different. I have read a number of thriller or romantic/thrillers but this one was full of surprises. Everything here works; the characters, the situation, the dialogue and the romantic elements complement each other well.

A number of writers who have honed their skills in the traditional romance market, like Catherine Coulter and Tess Gerritsen have moved on to write superb thrillers which I enjoy, now I will add Sandra Brown to that list. My only regret is that it took me forever to try her again. PS. I just checked out another of her books, “Friction”.

 

 

Stalin’s Englishman: the lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

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The story of the Cambridge Spy Ring, or the Magnifivent Five as they were dubbed by the media, continues to be of interest, long after the Cold War ended. How did this group of young, wealthy, Cambridge University students fall into the clutches of the Soviet Union during the 1930s? The reality is that Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Cairncross, all brilliant young men, were very willing recruits because, in the polarised politics of the time, they saw it as a simple choice between Fascism or Communism, and they chose the latter.

Guy Burgess was the most important, complex and fascinating of the Cambridge Spies. An engaging and charming companion to many, an unappealing, utterly ruthless manipulator to others, Burgess rose through academia, the BBC, the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6, gaining access to thousands of highly secret documents which he passed to his Russian handlers. And he did all of this in plain sight while drawing attention to himself via a disolute and promiscuous lifestyle. There was no security vetting in those days. The only entry requirements were that you went to Eton and Oxbridge and came from a ‘good family’. It was all about the connections which tied the ruling class together.

Burgess lost his father at an early age and some have speculated that this may have influenced his later direction in life. He was devoted to his mother and was an outstanding Cambridge undergraduate. He joined the Cambridge University Socialist Society and came into contact with other rich young men who were attracted to Marxism and how it was being implemented in the Soviet Union. His comrades included John Cornford, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War, and James Klugmann, who went on to become a skilled organiser within the Communist Party of Britain.

This is Andrew Lownie’s first full biography and he draws a rich picture of Guy Burgess’s lives, both personal and political. He shows how Burgess’s chaotic personal life of drunken philandering did nothing to stop his penetration of the British Intelligence Service. Even when he was under suspicion, the fabled charm which enabled close personal relationships with numerous influential figures prevented his exposure as a spy for many years. But it was the exposure of Donald Maclean which led to Burgess’s exile in Russia. Maclean was tipped off by Kim Philby and had to be smuggled out of the country. Burgess was instructed to escort Maclean to Europe, where we would be taken care of by his Soviet handlers. Burgess did not realise that he had been given a one way ticket and that he would become a fellow defector with Maclean in Moscow.

Burgess and Maclean left England in 1951 and disappeared for the next five years. Their mystery was solved when Tom Driberg visited them in Moscow and published Guy Burgess: a portrait with background in 1956. Burgess was not happy in Moscow and missed his mother, friends and London life. When he died in 1963 his ashes were sent back to England and placed in the family plot besides those of his father. Guy Burgess had finally had his wish and returned home.

Through interviews with over a hundred people who knew Burgess personally, many of whom have never spoken about him before, and the discovery of hitherto secret files, Stalin’s Englishman brilliantly unravels the many lives of Guy Burgess in all their intriguing, chilling, colourful, tragic-comic reality.

Review by John Pateman -Chief Librarian/CEO Thunder Bay Public Library

Someone You Know by Brian McGilloway

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someoneOn my first trip to Ireland, I found myself in a bookstore discovering a number of new authors to me, including couple of great mystery writers, Liz Nugent and Brian McGilloway.  While, Nugent has yet to break the North American market, McGilloway has been quietly building a fan base with his Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series.  Both writers are very distinctly Irish and the landscape, the language and the history of Ireland figure into the subplots giving a flavour to the books that adds to experience.

“Someone You Know” is the second in the Lucy Black series and begins about two weeks before Christmas, when the body of an at-risk sixteen-year-old girl is found lying on the train tracks. The body was placed there just before a scheduled train run but a railroad mechanical failure prevented the murder from looking like a suicide.  The girl was known to the police due to her tragic home life and had disappeared from a care home a few days before her death. It quickly becomes clear that as well as the victim a number of other girls are being groomed by a stalker and that the police are in a race against time to prevent more murders. The identity of the killer seems obvious at first until a series of twists take both the reader and the police into unexpected directions.

Lucy Black grounds the book with a deep back story that is woven into her persona and effects hurt2how she works through the mystery.  She is a damaged character, carrying the scars of a broken childhood with conflicted feelings about her father, who is suffering from dementia and her mother who abandoned the family but is now working as an administrator for the police force.  The secrets she carries have made it difficult to trust anyone but empathic to the victimized and abused women and children that make up her caseload.

When I saw the book on the shelves at Eason, (the Irish equivalent of Chapters), the novel was called Hurt, but whatever the title it’s a great read and the perfect choice to introduce you to a fabulous series.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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In the follow-up to his debut novel, Rules of Civility, author Amor Towles has written another fascinating and lyrical historical novel that captures the essence of a not so distant past.  This novel follows the story of Count Alexander Rostov , one of the last remaining members of the aristocracy left in Russia following the Revolution.  Rostov, a man of wit, charm and education who has never worked a day in his life is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal as being an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced to house arrest at the Hotel Metropol, which sits across the street from the Kremlin.  Instead of a large palace or a luxury suite, he is stripped of his possessions and forced to live in a small attic room for over 30 years.

Rostov is not crushed by the change in his circumstances,  and instead develops close relationships with the staff and the regular guests at the hotel.  Against the backdrop of world events, Rostov observes the world and engages the interest and the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old named Nina.  As the years pass, it is Rostov’s charm and friendships that keep him safe from the purges that plague the outside world, despite a close relationship with the American ambassador Richard Wilshire.

Both of his novels are a joy to read, and the author’s love of language and wordplay is evident, as is his ability to illustrate overwhelmingly complicated situations with the use of quiet observation.  Rostov would be what my mother called a “charmer”, with the innate ability to understand human nature and gently manipulate situations to his advantage.  While the novel covers decades of fictional time, I was saddened to close the final page and look foward to any further works by Towles.

hotelmetropolLobby of the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, built in 1905.

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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womancabinIn the wake of books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, the latest novel by author Ruth Ware has been receiving a lot of press, as it combines first person point of view of a character that may or may not be an unreliable narrator and the classic crime story of a locked door mystery.

Travel writer Lo Blacklock has scored a prime assignment for her magazine to cover the inaugural voyage of an ultra luxury cruise liner through the Baltic Sea to view the Northern Lights.   Following a night of partying, Lo wakes to what she believes is the tossing of a woman off the side of the boat. When she reports the crime, everyone claims that no one is missing and the cabin beside her was empty, but Lo remembers the woman, having borrowed mascara from her.  Is she imagining things or is everyone conspiring against her?  In the days leading up to the trip, Lo’s apartment was burgled and she is suffering from vivid nightmares and sleep deprivation; combine that with drinking and prescription medication, perhaps, she is wrong, so why is her gut telling her that she’s in danger?

The book is set in the modern day but carries the feeling of a golden age mystery like “The Lady Vanishes” or “Murder on the Orient Express” as our technology does us no good in the middle of the ocean, where we are isolated and at the mercy of others.  This is an excellent read and Ware, the author of “In a Dark, Dark Wood” knows how to write a tight mystery. Despite enjoying the book, I must admit I never warmed to Lo, who is a conflicted and complex character, but would recommend this as a read for a cold winter night.

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

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cover art of The CallThis tense, fast paced thriller asks the question, what would happen if the gods and goddess of mythology returned to the modern world with their hearts full of vengeance?  O’Guilin has taken modern Ireland and cut if off from the rest of the world, due to the magic of the Sidhe.  These were the mythical fairy folk of the Emerald Isle and of Scotland, physically beautiful but cruel and capricious. The Sidhe were tricked by the ancient Irish into a hellish netherworld and now are seeking their revenge by abducting their adolescents into the Greylands to be mutilated or killed.

Twenty five years have passed since the horror began when without warning young people began disappearing suddenly for a little over three minutes of our time but a full day in the alternative world, during which they are hunted by the Sidhe. Their chances are surviving are slim at best and should they return alive, the survivors are forever altered both physically and mentally. The young are now sent away to school to be taught and toughened for when their “call” comes.

The story focuses on Nessa who is not expected to survive due to a childhood bout of polio which has damaged her legs, but not destroyed her strength or will to live. She and the other residents of the Boyle school are simply ordinary teenagers forced to fight for their lives and many of the characters the reader comes to care about meet tragic fates.

The author O’Guilin mixes moments of humour with moments of anguish, loyalty with betrayal, desire with scorn, each with a deft hand.  Despite the overall darkness as the country slips into subsistence living when the doom of the Sidhe takes hold, there is a sense of hope and defiance in spite of the odds.

The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane Peacock

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What would you do if all the imaginary horrors of the world weren’t imaginary at all? Such is the world of Edgar Brim. As a young boy, his father told him many tales of the bizarre and the macabre, leading to Edgar’s heighten sense of fear and frequent night terrors. Later when he is sent to a gloomy boarding school in Scotland run by the stern and mysterious Mr. Thorne, life for Edgar turns even darker as he becomes the subject of bullying and ridicule. It is only in the finding of a journal written by his novelist father which helps Edgar develop the courage to fight both his bullies and his fears.

When I picked up the book and read the premise of a gothic horror novel set during the reign of Queen Victoria and featuring Bram Stoker, I knew this was my type of novel.  The book reads much like a classic Victorian novel of mystery, full on dark intrigue, gloomy atmosphere and cryptic clues and the main character of Edgar makes for an interesting foil to the action. Edgar both grows up physically and emotionally in the novel, while keeping a certain distance of personality that makes we wonder what mysteries we will find out about him as the series goes on. Setting the book during the Victorian period adds a whole set of socially acceptable and expected behaviours that feel odd to our modern sensibilites and are really pronounced with Edgar’s friend, Lucy.

I really liked the literary references to the great Victorian writers of the time and can see their influence in the story and in the character of Edgar. The build up in story is slow as it lays out a number of plot threads and takes time introducing Edgar and the world he inhabits but once the action begins the it moves rapidly and ties up a number of ends while leaving some mysteries for further in the series.