Contemporary Thriller / Mystery
Jayne Ann Krentz
See the Castle Krentz Quick post for reviews of books by Jayne Ann Krentz under her married name (Jayne Ann Krentz), her given (maiden) name Jayne Castle, and and her pen name Amanda Quick. Her Krentz novels are in the murder mystery / thriller / romance genres with a contemporary setting – often the wine country north of San Francisco. Many of the lead characters in her contemporary novels have psychical abilities and in the remaining one or both of the leads are strong intuitives. Her Jayne Castle novels are set in the future on another planet with emigrants from Earth with psychical abilities and her Amanda Quick novels are Regency romance / mystery / thrillers, usually with paranormal (psychical) elements.
Up Close and Dangerous by Linda Howard is an engrossing tale of grit and survival – with a bit of mystery and romance as overlays – so long as you ignore some of the improbable behaviors and physical abilities. Though the hero is an ex-Air Force pilot, the ex-executive assistant turned trust fund manager is the one whose resourcefulness and determination saves the day. There are a few sex scenes, but given the sometimes clunky wording (e.g. ‘penis’ is just too clinical sounding) I could have done without them. The heroine had the emotional baggage – trust issues – which is preferable to the rusty ‘hero-who-can’t-say-I-love-you’. An entertaining read.
Up Close and Dangerous Random House 2008, ISBN: 978-0-345-48653-0.
Forensic sculptor Eve Duncan is the focus of Silencing Eve – though she isn’t heard from directly until many chapters into the novel. The question of “is she dead?” would carry more weight if not for the cover image and blurb… and the weight of 17 prior novels featuring this character. Killing her off would be like killing the cash cow. This was my first of Johansen’s novels and I made it most of the way through before skimming to the end – mainly because I was nauseated by saccharine lovey-doveyness in the middle of the race to Eve. I was also finding the combat training on the part of the non-agent women a bit eye-rolling and the constant drumbeat of child predators to be wearying. Since this appears to be a large part of Johansen’s winning formula, I’m not particularly drawn to her contemporary works.
Nauti Intentions by Lora Leigh is another in the series of the love lives of the Mackay family and their connections. Amusing to skim – especially if you like somewhat rough sex with alpha males and GGGs – but too much angst and Southern drama to compel me to read more thoroughly.
Nauti Intentions publisher Berkeley, copyright 2009, ISBN 0425226050.
Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Fox and O’Hare series
The series starts with the short story prequel Pros and Cons and then fully commences with The Heist. The novels don’t have to be read in order but do so will better follow the developing relationship between the two protagonists, FBI agent Kate O’Hare and international art and jewelry thief Nick Fox.
The Heist was a fun, fast-paced read with only very minor logic flaws and a sufficiently unexpected and yet expected ending. In comparison to some of Evanovich’s mid-series Stephanie Plum novels the tone was more lighthearted – but did not veer into the zany or ridiculous (like some of the more recent Stephanie Plum novels). There is some violence but it’s more in a James Bond vein with minimal death and destruction. The romance in this first novel is just a very slow buildup of attraction which the leads sensibly and realistically don’t act on while in the middle of the con. I got a kick out of the familiar locales of the Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and Berlin. Speaking of Berlin, I’m envious that the heroine got to sample the many delights of the upstairs café at Fassbender & Rausch Schokoladen in Berlin; I was only able to visit the downstairs store / chocolate sculpture display area – still a very pleasant experience but not quite the gustatory immersion described in the novel. Favorite line: “mow-blow-and-go Julio did his lawn”. Note that the large print version is a little disconcerting with an overly bold font substituting for italicized font.
The Chase starts off with a bang (literally) in downtown Los Angeles and proceeds with a chase scene – fitting reading on the 20th anniversary of the exhaustively filmed police chase of O.J. Simpson. The book is akin to the James Bond movies in that the good guys don’t set out to commit murder and when a bad guy does get killed (in self-defense) the storyline doesn’t wallow in the violence; the violence happens off-camera. Overall a fun read.
References: The story’s villain is a thinly veiled allusion to Dick Cheney, David Rumsfeld, Blackwater, and Halliburton – including double-dealing with African governments and rebel groups. “Bodyperk silicone stiffies” should more properly be called ‘silicone nipples’; ‘stiffies’ in silicone are available… but as a male enhancement accessory. Badboy Manhattan chef Razzie Olden’s restaurant La Guerre in midtown Manhattan is likely a riff on the early Anthony Bourdain. “shoot the whiskers off a kitten from two hundred yards away” with variations is indeed a real saying; “shoot a grape off the head of a one-legged hooker” does not appear to be a legit saying. Valor Oil is a real petroleum distributor in Kentucky. The highly improbable history of Dr. Hardin Davidson who lived in Hawesville, KY in the mid-1800s was completely true.
Locations and landmarks:
- Downtown Los Angeles – First Sunland Bank (not real but likely a reference to the Chase Executive Suites at 811 Wilshire Blvd, three blocks from the US Bank Tower, the tallest building in California) on the north side of Wilshire Blvd mid-block between Flower St and Figueroa, LAPD HQ, Wilshire Federal Building near the San Diego Freeway overpass in Westwood, LA Convention Center
- Scotland – Kilmarny (not real but perhaps a reference to Doune Knoydart?) between Loch Nevis (Lake Heaven) and Loch Hourn (Lake Hell), accessed via a ferry from Mallaig harbor, Belford Hospital (spelled ‘Bedford’ in the book – though that’s 450 miles south in England) in Fort William
- (reconstructed by the villain in Palm Beach, Florida) – Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during the Rat Pack‘s heyday; Majestic Theater in Bigleton, Indiana (not real – though the still-operational Indiana Theatre in Terre Haute, IN was designed by John Eberson who also designed the still-open Majestic Theatre in San Antonio and the Majestic Theater in Dallas and the closed Majestic Theatres in Fort Worth, Houston, Savannah and Birmingham (AL)).
- Shanghai China – Ultraviolet (restaurant) at Park Hyatt Shanghai, Tilanqiao Prison, Huangpu River, the Bund, Pudong, Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Chinese Qing Dynasty zodiac animal statues – the Haiyantang – are part of a very intense and real recovery effort. To-date only seven of the twelve have been located (and repatriated).
- Washington DC – Gelman’s Haberdashery on Dupont Circle (I believe that this is a reference to a real tailor but I can’t recall the real name or place – Arlington perhaps?)
- The Commons in Calabasas, California
- Montreal – Musee de Florentiny (not real – including the names of the competing railway magnates and the titles of the Rembrandt paintings) is likely based on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA; from which in 1972 fifty works – including a Rembrandt – were stolen but never recovered), Collège de Montréal (six blocks down Sherbrooke from the MMFA), Moving Day (July 1st), Montreal Metro, Golden Square Mile (not kilometer),
- Kentucky – International Bluegrass Music Museum, Hawesville
- Broad Beach Road in Malibu runs parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway one block from the ocean
Janet Evanovich (and Dorien Kelly)
Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly (C 2011, St. Martin’s Press). I don’t know why, but I didn’t really get into this romance / industrial espionage mystery story. Yes, there are dogs – Stella, the spoiled, prima donna poodle, and Chuck, the three-legged hound – but Chuck isn’t introduced until Chapter 5 and Stella doesn’t appear in the flesh (with poodle poms) until Chapter 13 (out of twenty chapters). Furthermore, making Chuck three-legged is a gratuitous sympathy ploy and Stella’s antics are annoying rather than amusing or endearing and her behavior reflects poorly on the heroine’s (Kate’s) parenting (regardless of the role that her ex played. And I can’t condone the hero’s (Matt’s) bribing Stella with potato chips.
I respect Kate’s choice to get her life in order post-divorce before getting involved with another guy but I don’t get that she’s grown much from when she made the choice to fall in love with an marry a one-dimensional stereotype of a lawyer weasel – who’s too weak to stand up to his fiancee but who was unjustifiably harsh in going after his ex (Kate) in divorce court… even though he was the one who cheated. I also don’t buy Kate getting tongue-tied and drooly over Matt in Chapter 1 – she shouldn’t be swooning over any man but especially not her new boss in the first hour of her first day on the job.
My last gripe is the ending: a surprise whodunit is great… but only if the motivations of the perpetrator/s are believable. In this book while the clues and plot were sound, the behaviors were out of characters and reactions were too often over the top.
Heather Wells Mysteries
Heather Wells is Meg Cabot’s rendition of fizzled American pop princess Tiffany – only instead of continuing to do shopping mall tours, she becomes a manager of a dormitory at a pricy NYC university. Once you’ve read the first in the series, Size 12 Is Not Fat, the others may be read in any order.
The Bride Wore Size 12
This fifth book in the Heather Wells series starts with Heather and her PI boyfriend Cooper Cartwright happy and stable in their relationship and a month from wedded bliss. Cabot uses their solid relationship as a foil for topics that would otherwise make for a dark story: infertility, police burnout, psychopaths, repression and intolerance in Arab monarchies, and teenaged alcohol abuse. There were a few incidents of violence that upon reflection were treated a bit too glibly but since the book is intended for adults I’ll trust in other readers’ discernment of ‘only-in-fiction’ behaviors. (Less troubling was the too-easy resolution of messy emotional and sociopolitical conflicts.) Overall a snappy mystery with mild tension and good red herrings.
In a Fix
The references to “modern-day Vikings” and “skilled adaptors” in the blurb on the back cover had me expecting a time-travel story so I was a bit confused to read that the Vikings in question are more of a group of Swedish nationalists with no powers beyond the persuasive capabilities of a cult. Much of the action takes place in and around Visby in Gotland County, an island off of the eastern coast of Sweden. The heroine and heroes do have the extraordinary power of adaption – the ability to take on another person’s aura after physical contact with the source; no other paranormal powers were mentioned in the story. The heroine was likeably cheeky, resilient, and resourceful – but as much as she wanted to be perceived as adult by her crush-object and older siblings, with her half-cocked actions she was somewhat annoyingly self-sabotaging. Worthy quote: “My favorite aerobic activity is reading steamy romantic thrillers.” (Though a serious interest in becoming an undercover field agent is incompatible with eschewing physical exercise.) Swedish phrases: ‘den lilla hunden’ (the little dog); ‘Vad bra’; ‘Vad har vi här’. Birds: Columba palumbus (Common Wood Pigeon) and Radde’s Warbler (an abundant type of leaf warbler).
I made it less than halfway through Deep Blue before the holes in the plot’s logic and annoying character interactions got me skipping through to the end… and the after-climax and Epilogue weren’t worth it. On the plus side, there’s the story’s historical bits about Spanish galleons in the Caribbean, Jamaican color, and scuba diving (though since I’m not personally familiar with these topics I can’t vouch for Martin’s accuracy).