Tag Archives: FBI

Miami a major setting in spellbinding thriller with gruesome killings

Verses for the Dead, by Douglas Prescott and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 352 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Billed as “A Pendergast Novel,” this latest entry in the thriller series about a legendary, iconoclastic FBI superstar is brimming with suspense, surprise, and imagination. Fabled rulebreaker A. X. L. Pendergast, always at odds with FBI standard procedure, must take an assignment that keeps him on the payroll by agreeing to accept a partner. What a restraining humiliation! However, this premise allows the authors to build a new, unique character, Special Agent Coldmoon, whose Native American heritage brings a special flavor to the table. 

The assignment has the men prowling around every kind of Miami neighborhood to find out facts and discover the psychopath behind a series of outrageously gruesome killings. The killer skillfully excises the hearts of his victims and places them against gravestones in Miami cemeteries.

He also leaves behind strange letters filled with literary allusions and quotations. The perpetrator has taken for himself the name Mr. Brokenhearts

Want more? Each of the grave holds the remains of a woman who, years ago, committed suicide.

The perpetrator seems to be conducting a ritual of his own crazed making that is in some ways a form of expiation.

Centers of interest include the interaction between Pendergast and this somewhat resentful FBI superiors, the FBI’s interaction with local police departments, the growing relationship between Pendergast and Coldmoon, and the dogged if often irregular investigatory process.

Preston and Child

The large cast of intriguing characters provides many who are in themselves centers of interest. These include a modestly successful journalist, Roger Smithback, who makes a big, if short-lived, splash through his coverage of the case. Dr. Charlotte Fauchet, of the medical examiner’s office, puts in the beyond-the-call-of-duty hours that change the direction of the inquiry.

Another fascinating character, once discovered and confronted by the FBI duo, is the killer – a fellow who for all of his murderous deeds qualifies as someone to pity for the miserable life that had been handed to him. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 11 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County,  and Venice editions, and the April 18 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Verses for the Dead

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James Swain’s new thriller takes him in a new direction

The King Tides, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 303 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

If you are looking for a new James Swain novel, a tantalizing tale of magic, gambling, and casino chicanery, don’t look here. Mr. Swain has launched a new character, and I hope he’s launching a new series. Jon Lancaster is something of a throwback to the hardboiled detective school; but the label has tears in it. He doesn’t completely fit. He’s tough, but he has a heart. A former Navy SEAL and a former policeman, Lancaster has a formidable package of skills and experience. As a private detective, freed from the restraints of federal or local governments, he has maintained connections that serve him well.

Slovenly and seemingly out of shape, Lancaster doesn’t make much of a first impression. But that’s how he likes it. To his adversaries, and even to his clients, he is a man of surprises.

Attractive teenager Nicki Pearl’s life has been turned upside down. She is constantly being stalked by perverts. Except for one rebellious misdeed, she can’t figure out why. If we can believer her innocence, we must wonder how she finds herself in this situation.

Swain

Dr. Nolan Pearl, Nicki’s father, has a difficult time thinking that Lancaster is the right man for the job. His wife is even more reluctant to trust rough-hewn Lancaster. But they succumb to his self-confidence and credentialed experience. They are in a panic, especially since two creeps had attempted to abduct Nicki at a nearby mall. When Lancaster sees a video of the mall scene, he can tell the men are professionals.

I may be giving too much away by saying that Nicki is being mistaken for someone else, someone in porn videos designed and circulated to attract and trap degenerates. The actress is Beth Daniels, an FBI agent who turned to crime fighting after surviving abduction in her college years. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the July 25, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The King Tides

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A thriller that spills over into the literary fiction genre

City of Endless Night, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Grand Central Publishing. 368 pages. Hardcover $28.00.

Now that one member of this writing team, Lincoln Child, has established a winter residence in Sarasota, I have the pleasure of reviewing their new book in my “Florida Writers” column. Though each author has published notable fiction as a solo writer, their jointly written Pendergast Novel series has perhaps provided more best sellers. This one is certainly a dazzler. 

New York Police Department Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta has been assigned to the case, a search for a tech tycoon’s missing daughter. But then her body is discovered in an abandoned warehouse – headless! Now it’s a gruesome murder investigation. D’Agosta is please to discover that genius FBI Special Agent Pendergast is also assigned to the case.

There is a ton of pressure to solve this horrible crime. Fortunately, both D’Agosta and the legendary Pendergast handle pressure well, though their styles are quite different. Much of the pleasure in this addictive novel is how Preston and Child build such intriguing, distinctive major characters.

The pressure thermometer increases as more headless victims turn up. Why this horrifying signature? What possible motive? Is there one murderer or a bunch of copycats? Are such heinous crimes a symptom of a diseased city?

Preston & Child

The working out of the plot, and the series of beheadings, requires the efforts of many additional law enforcement professionals. The authors handle these subordinate figures well, providing just enough individuality for each so they don’t seem like merely walk-on parts.

The FBI and NYPD are not the only investigative forces at work. New York Post reporter Bryce Harrington is planning a long uptick in his career as the person who reveals the “decapitator.” He stirs things up with an emphasis on how the one percent (the phenomenally rich and privileged New Yorkers) exploit the ninety-nine percent. Maybe the motive – and the disease – is connected to this huge imbalance of power. Maybe someone is righting the scales by bringing down the powerful. Vengeance may be driving the series of crimes. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 15, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – City of Endless Night

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A speedy, short, slick, and satisfying addition to Michael Bennet detective series

Manhunt, by James Patterson with James O. Born. BookShots. 144 pages. Paperback $4.99. Kindle Ebook $3.99.

The BookShots imprint is a new line in the Little, Brown publishing domain. These are titles that are long on action, story-driven, and easy to read in an evening. Bestseller king James Patterson considers these “among his best novels of any length.” By partnering with other writers, Mr. Patterson has stepped up his productivity (which was always high).  Writing shorter books helps as well.  

These books seem aimed at readers of digital versions. As the author says, you can enjoy them “on a commute” (let’s hope this means in a vehicle you are not driving), “or even on your cell phone during breaks at work.” Indeed, there is a handy app for downloading BookShots titles to your smart phone or tablet.

This title is part of the highly successful “A Michael Bennet Story” series. Written in a partnership by two Floridians, it justifies Mr. Patterson’s recent practice of inviting a co-author to the writing party.

Its Thanksgiving Day in New York, and the action begins with Michael and almost all the members of his family are out on the street with a good view of that great institution – Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even with the hyper vigilance of the New York City Police Department, something resembling the cliché terrorist pattern occurs. A white truck slams into a crowd of spectators, and Michael barely has the time to grab and rescue his daughter Shawna.

Patterson

The driver exits his truck and shouts “Hawqala.”

Michael attempts to take control of the scene, safeguarding his family as well as others nearby. Then the driver detonates an explosive device that sends the truck’s roof thirty feet into the air, from which it crashes straight down. Pandemonium has broken loose. Oddly, there are very few patrolmen nearby. Many had been hurt, some were aiding victims, and “no one was chasing the perp.”

Michael follows the driver of the truck and is about to overtake him, but the man makes his escape.

It’s a great cityscape action sequence, ready for the movies.

Born

Being the key witness, Michael reports what he knows and works with the sketch artist. Before long, the FBI takes over the case and expects the local police to hang back yet be supportive. Michael makes an uneasy truce with agent Dan Santos, who introduces him to the gorgeous Darya Kuznetsova, the FBI’s liaison from the Russian Embassy. She convinces Michael that she can provide a valuable perspective.

It turns out that the perpetrator is most likely a Russian speaker from Kazakhstan. That news leads Michael and Darya to Russian immigrant neighborhoods where Darya’s cultural knowledge is an asset. Michael is impressed with her for standing up to the FBI team leader. She makes it clear that Russia has many more terrorist attacks to deal with than the U.S. does. Perhaps she has more than one kind of expertise to share. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 3, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 4 Naples, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Manhunt

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Serial killer pursued by a most worthy, though inexperienced, FBI adversary

Before Evil, by Alex Kava. Prairie Wind Publishing. 336 pages. Hardcover $27.00, Trade paperback $15.99.

It’s not every day in the book business that you run into a prequel for a highly regarded thriller series. However, here it is displacing A Perfect Evil as the first installment of the long-lived Maggie O’Dell Series in that it is constructed to bring readers a slightly younger and less experienced version of the series protagonist.  Maggie is already recognized as a particularly talented young FBI agent, proficient as a profiler and as a forensic wiz.

Kava

She has done much of her work fielding inquiries from other agents via computer. Now, though her somewhat reluctant supervisor provides her first field assignment – a real live crime sign. Problem is the victims are no so very live. Serial killer Albert Stucky is as crazy as he is skilled. He haunts backwoods Virginia (though he has killed elsewhere) and is brazen enough to enjoy being identified – though as a master of disguise his apparent identities are just part of a game. He is a grand manipulator. He leaves messages for the law enforcement officers who are trying to track him down and end the carnage.

He finds Maggie to be an irresistible adversary.

Chapters focused on Maggie and her co-workers are alternated with chapters that takes readers into Stucky’s brilliant but damaged mind. He’s a killer who simply loves his work. A man who has made millions of dollars, Stuckey needs bigger thrills than money can provide. He has developed a slew of well-planned hiding places, and no description of him will hold up as he readily discards and replaces signs of age, physical stature, social class, and anything else identifying that one might think of.

Stuckey is a careful and usually meticulous planner. He loves it when a plan comes together, but he also enjoys surviving risky adventures. He’s a show-off. There is nothing, however, like the thrill of the kill. His major weapon is a crossbow. He is truly a hunter – mostly of women. He often imprisons his victims before ultimately destroying them. He fancies himself a surgeon, and he leaves evidence of his skill. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 27, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Before Evil.

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Can ISIS outdo the 9/11 day of horror?

Isis in the City, by EE Hunt. Xlibris. 365 pages. Hardcover $29.99, Trade paperback $19.99.

Let me say this up front: I am reviewing this book because of its interesting and timely premise, its well-imagined action, and its fairly well-drawn characters. However, I am fully aware of its shortcomings: awkward sentence constructions, missing words, typos, and a general lack of professional editing. I still think it’s worth the reader’s time. 

Mr. Hunt (I don’t know which of his clerical and academic titles to use) takes readers into the very possible scenario of a small cadre of Islamic extremists planning something like a repeat performance of 9/11. One, named Nadir, seems to be a truly able leader, while another – Assad –  is a compulsive complainer and uncharacteristically tall. The remaining two, Amin and Khalid, are not sharply individualized until one of them is tapped to take on a particularly important role. We eavesdrop on their planning sessions and their attempts to keep a low profile in established Muslim neighborhoods. Mr. Hunt does a fine job of tracing their day to business, their hopes, and their fears.

That is, he gets into their heads so that we sense the degree of their radicalization.

We follow them as they carry out two missions of destruction. One is set at a Times Square area theater. They attack the theater audience and anyone else in the vicinity, including law enforcement officers. They chose the right time for maximum chaos. They are largely successful, even though their attack was anticipated.

Mr. Hunt provides alternating chapters and sections of chapters. Those not focused on the terrorists focus on another team of four. This is the counterterrorist team that includes Lieutenant Sherry Williams, the courageous and shapely team leader; Ted, her husband-to-be and FBI agent; and Charles, CIA representative and love interest to the formidable Fatima – the Muslim voice of peaceful coexistence who hates the hijacking of her religion.

The interactions of the couples and this tightly bonded foursome are carefully and credibly portrayed, especially as the time drawers near for the major terrorist event.

What could be more powerfully symbolic for the terrorists than destroying the National September 11 Memorial & Museum? What could be more disheartening for American patriots – and especially security workers – than such a catastrophe?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 20, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 21 issues of the Naples and other editions, click on link or copy and paste this URL: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-20#page=52

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Motives and means collide in shadowy Sunshine State thriller

The Gail Force, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 341 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

This fourth title in the Jake Travis series maintains the powerful rush of suspense, the intricate observations about places and personalities, and the complex tradecraft of its hero that has come to be expected. The task that Jake undertakes is unusually convoluted, the stakes are high, and the women are so very, very attractive. gailforce-hi-res

Karl Anderson and his pretty wife Riley have found trouble. Karl has disappointed a sinister fellow named Phillip Agatha who under the cover of running an art gallery is an entrepreneur in blackmail and murder. Karl does not escape Agatha’s wrath, but he manages to get Riley on her way to safety. Soon she is depending on Jake to protect her, which means eventually dealing with Agatha.

Agatha, known as the Fat Man, is the target of an FBI investigation, but he seems to lead a charmed life for one in this position. Though there may be people he deals with who would like to rat him out, he may have influence inside the FBI, someone whose personal and professional interests benefit from Agatha’s services. This is truly one of those “you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys” situations, and Mr. Lane handles all the implications and nuances of this morally murky environment with great skill.

Jake and his long-time, super-skilled buddies team up with an FBI sting meant to bring down Agatha. Millions of dollars flow in and out of various accounts to make this happen. This alliance is managed by Jake’s FBI insider, attractive female Agent Binelli with whom Jake has partnered before. This task brings him, under cover of course, to Agatha’s offices and his super yacht, “The Gail Force.” Agatha is a man of incredible taste and the money to indulge it. He’d like to keep it that way. He sends his lovely assistant Christina to show Jake around. She is quite a distraction, and their relationships builds from role playing to flirtation and is on the edge of becoming much more.

Robert Lane

Robert Lane

In fact, just as suspenseful as the painstakingly schemed mission is the growing magnetism between Jake and the much younger Christina. Jake’s attraction to her complicates the reader’s understanding of his healthy, uplifting, and fortunate relationship with Kathleen. It’s clear that Kathleen, developed in the previous Jake Travis novels, is the love of his life, the perfect mate, and perhaps more than he deserves. The scenes between them are magic in every way. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 23, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Gail Force

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“Casey’s Last Chance,” by Joseph B. Atkins

“Last chance for what?” the eager reader might ask. To make it to the majors? To score big at anything? In this debut novel, it’s this sorry fellow’s last chance to get out from under the debts incurred over a decade or two of minor league hustling and losing. Not talking about sports here, just life. Casey Eubanks has made mistakes – bad choices, really – over and over again. Hey, he may have killed his girlfriend, Orella, or someone else. Or somehow got her killed. He has been on the run.  Casey'sLastChancefinal1-05

Like most fumbling criminals, he thinks that he can change his dismal life by staking it all on one more crime for the payoff he needs to survive – even flourish. His supposed good friend, Clyde Point, puts him onto something . . . truly horrible. Clyde is ready to vouch for Casey to the big crime boss who needs someone assassinated. $500 now, $500 later. Death of you don’t come through. What a deal.

This big Memphis operator, a whole-hearted Nazi named (of late) Max Duren, is involved with illegal everything and even a business, garment manufacture, that could be legal but would make less profit if it followed the rules. And now there might be more rules, and even a union shop, to protect the workers who are viciously exploited. There’s a good-looking young Polish woman, Ala Gadomska, who is stirring things up at Bengal Britches. She’s a courageous, fast-talking labor organizer who must be stopped. Such is Casey’s assignment.

Readers follow Casey through an off-the-highways tour of the American South, circa 1960. It’s time for President Kennedy to turn America into Camelot – but that’s not happening along the routes Casey travels: a network of despairing, grimy small towns with their failed businesses and failed history rooted in slavery’s aftermath.

Atkins

Atkins

Atkins’ eye for unpleasant physical details and their cultural resonance is penetrating. His prose is tonally perfect. His dialogue is uncanny, accurate, and revealing on more than one level.

This is noir country with grits gone cold; sad, confused Casey is its exemplary figure. His one skill – marksmanship. His fatal flaw – some vestigial sense of right and wrong mixed with guilt that wiggles beneath his fear and greed. When the time comes, he can’t pull the trigger.

Having screwed up his last chance, he gets a last, last chance. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: Southern Literary Review — January Read of the Month: “Casey’s Last Chance” 

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Maryland’s Eastern Shore remains fertile ground for exciting series

The Tempest, by James Lilliefors. Witness Impulse. 416 pages. Trade paperback $11.99.

This new addition to the Bowers and Hunter mystery series, properly promoted, is going to gain James Lilliefors a huge chunk more of the readers his work deserves.

Walter Kepler, in the big leagues of fine art dealers, has a plan. It involves a lot of money (millions) changing hands and a stolen Rembrandt changing hands as well. But the final stage of the transfer is a secret – a secret that will seem like a miracle when it is revealed. To accomplish his ends, he needs the help of contractor and land developer Nicholas Champlain; an assassin named Belasco; and Jacob Weber, Kepler’s lawyer and confidante. TheTempest.Jpeg

Nick Champlain and his attractive, much younger wife Susan had rented a place in Tidewater County for the summer, leading a very private life. Mostly, Susan was around by herself, not quite fitting in, but attending the Methodist church where Luke Bowers was pastor. To Luke’s wife Charlotte, Susan seemed troubled. In confidence, Susan tells Luke that her marriage has become difficult. Nick is keeping tabs on her, and making threatening statements.

They’d had a dreadful argument over a photograph Susan had taken. She also reveals that he seems to be involved in a sensitive, clandestine project, something he can’t talk about – but the implication is that the photograph could put the project at risk. Luke wishes to be helpful, but before long Susan is found dead.

Luke’s good friend, State Police Homicide Detective Amy Hunter, is only marginally involved in the investigation until enough facts turn up to label it a homicide. Then it’s her case.

Lilliefors

Lilliefors

Or is it? Before long, the FBI is involved, but the FBI is concerned with building a case against Walter Kepler, who has been a suspect in international art theft crimes for many years. The FBI agent who pushes his way into Amy’s investigation heads a special art theft division. He seems to have an obsessive grudge against Kepler. The county sheriff also is a thorn in Amy’s side.

Still, she holds her own, aided by a supportive boss and some inside information from her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be an FBI agent. However, her major support comes through her two competent subordinates and – of course – Parson Luke. Luke is her necessary sounding board and moral yardstick.

As Kepler pursues his miracle and Amy pursues Susan Champlain’s killer, readers get a well-drawn overview of the Middle Atlantic region. Places, people, and events in and around Philadelphia become important to the investigation. Author Lilliefors handles the multiple settings and the transit from one to another with masterful skill. . . .

 

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 19, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Tempest

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“The Book of Stone” by Jonathan Papernick

Fig Tree Books  2015
400 Pages    $15.95

Review by Philip K. Jason

In a Brooklyn warehouse, part gun range and part synagogue, trouble is brewing.

Who is susceptible to the morbid attractions of terrorism? Our popular media have made clichés out of half a dozen answers. Jonathan Papernick has created a terrifying novel that illuminates the dark corners of those souls who will give their lives for a cause without regard for their own suffering or that of others.

Though this beautifully written book teems with fully realized supporting characters, most of the insights derive from the portrait of the central character—Matthew Stone. This portrait is so magnificently painted, Matthew is so brilliantly and precisely individualized, that the stock responses to the important question are overwhelmed and transformed. No more glib talk. Real life.

We meet Matthew, a twenty-five year old loser with no job, no accomplishments, and no self-worth, as he shakily responds to his father’s death. Judge Walter Stone is a version of “the great man.” A giant in his profession, disgraced by his own drives, he had given Matthew the toughest kind of love—absence and denigration. Yet he remained a giant among militant Zionists.

Papernick

Papernick

The judge’s father, also a Zionist hero and a similar kind of disapproving parent,was a feared gangster.

Through his father’s horde of books, books annotated with what seem like clues for Matthew’s destined role in life, and through the approaches of Jewish terrorist leaders planning a major offensive, Matthew finds his cause. Or is he carefully manipulated into it? Or is it his genetic patrimony?

Those handling his indoctrination understand his needs and play upon his fears and insecurities. . . .

To read the entire review as posted on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here: The Book of Stone by Jonathan Papernick | Jewish Book Council

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