Suzanne Brockmann, “Flashpoint”

Ballantine Books; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/18609/flashpoint-by-suzanne-brockmann

For many women, there comes a choice: the Bad Boy or Mr. Nice Guy?  Who is the best in the long term, who in the short term (hint: it’s probably not the same person)? Is the taste of either something that every woman craves in order to learn what she needs, wants or absolutely hates? For Tess Bailey, the two men within her immediate circle – Jimmy Nash and Lawrence Decker – represent the dark and the light, the adventurous and the steady, the passionate and the sweet. So, tapping into stereotypes, whom does she choose: the man on the motorcycle who roars off into the night or the man waiting at home with a nice dinner and a glass of wine?

Plot Overview: Partners, Appearances and Romance

Tess Bailey doesn’t look the part of a computer-savvy geek. Her plump face and ruddy cheeks are a testament to her Midwest upbringing, as is her openness, friendliness and overall warm demeanor. As the girl next door, she’s typical; as an operative working undercover for Troubleshooters, Inc., she’s perfect – the last person anyone would ever suspect.

Jimmy Nash and Lawrence Decker are also the last to ever suspect they would run into her. Both men, former spies with a hush-hush government black ops unit, have feelings for the farm girl, though on the “like or like like” scale, they’re poles apart. Nash had a desperate one-night stand with Tess months before. Deck, on the other hand, views her as honest-to-goodness relationship material. So when the three, all now working for the aforementioned Troubleshooters, Inc., are sent to earthquake-ravaged Kazbekistan, their love triangle ignites.

The trio’s mission, as they have accepted it, is to retrieve the missing laptop computer of Ma’awiya Talal Sayid, a known terrorist. Authorities believe the computer could contain vital information about upcoming attacks. Armed and ready, Tess, Nash and Deck assume their new identities to begin the search, facing tragedy and danger – and each other’s roiling, intense emotions in the high-pressure terror zone.

Criticisms and Compliments

Although Flashpoint doesn’t quite live up to Brockmann’s established steamy, action-filled military adventures, it does play an important role in her overall collection. Unlike previous books that focused almost exclusively on Navy Seal Team Sixteen, Flashpoint works as a transition novel, moving the reader away from Team Sixteen to Troubleshooters, Inc. Brockmann carries over many of her characters, including original Tom Paoletti, but Flashpoint also introduces readers to a host of new characters: Nash, Deck, Tess and the damaged and beautiful Sophia Ghaffari. Some readers might balk at Brockmann’s retiring some of her more beloved characters, but it’s always refreshing to see a writer recognize that certain personalities and situations can get stale, so it’s necessary to introduce something or someone new and exciting.

Despite Flashpoint’s pivotal role in Brockmann’s series, it’s not one of her best novels. Kazbekistan, which appears to be loosely based on Afghanistan, could certainly fuel some anti-Arab sentiment in readers, and the romance is somewhat lacking, perhaps because of the way Brockmann seems to sensitively treat her more fragile characters (i.e. Sophia). Flashpoint is a good, decent read; it just doesn’t have the bite and smoldering intensity of Brockmann’s earlier work. Still, check it out. It’s important to get to know the new characters in order to enjoy Brockmann’s later (better) books.

Source:

  • Brockmann, Suzanne. Flashpoint. Ballantine Books, 2004 ISBN 9780345456946

Stephen Hunter, “The Master Sniper”

Dell Publishing; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/84550/the-master-sniper-by-stephen-hunterIn a valley carved out of the Black Forest, two dozen prisoners – Russians, Communists, Jews – wait, huddled in the dark. Although the only sounds are those of the forest, each prisoner drops in succession, executed. The one man left standing, Shmuel, is baffled and terrified. When he hears the Nazi guards coming out of the trees, he takes off, his muscles strong from weeks of labor and plentiful meals. He is the only survivor of a mysterious attack, one that the technology of the time doesn’t account for: silenced shots and infrared scopes.

Plot Overview: Targets, Ambition and Nazis

In the spring of 1945, World War Two is winding down. In England, American Captain Leets is burdened with paperwork relating to the German supply of guns and bullets. His commander, a lackadaisical British officer named Tony Outhwaithe, tosses more collected data sheets from the Germans on his desk. Leets finds an odd mark on one and is curious enough (maybe even bored enough) to dig deeper, a not impossible task given the Germans’ penchant for documenting every last detail.

In Germany, meanwhile, Obersturmbannführer Repp, “der Meisterschutze,” is hassling his engineers to complete work on Vampir, a mysterious weapon. The massive rifle allows Repp to see in the dark and to shoot without alerting his prey, the ideal device for a man renowned for his killing prowess.

Leets tracks down the information on Vampir, one frustrating step at a time. Tony and Leets’ rookie assistant, Roger, an egotistical Ivy-League tennis player, mocks the search but reluctantly agrees to help. Leets also confides his suspicions of Repp and Vampir in his married lover, Susan, a Jewish woman from the States providing aid to Jewish refugees in London. She alone believes the refugees’ testimony of the concentration camps and is instrumental in introducing Leets to Shmuel, Leets’ first lead.

Repp, realizing Leets is on his trail, does what he can to lose the pesky American. Despite the war ending, Repp’s journey is not over. He is on a mission, a secret one involving Vampir that could change the face of Europe, certainly of Germany. Leets, however, is a dog with a bone, and he will never stop chasing down the “Master Sniper.”

Criticisms and Compliments

Although Hunter is best known for his Bob Lee Swagger novels (see the Mark Wahlberg movie, Shooter, if there’s no time to read), The Master Sniper, a standalone novel and one of Hunter’s earliest, is excellent work. In fact – going out on a limb – The Master Sniper is one of the best action novels to appear on The Book She Read, and Stephen Hunter is one of, if not the best action writers today.

The key to a successful action novel lies in more than just a compelling plot and accurate fight scenes: the action must rise above mechanical descriptions, the writing must not be simplistic, and, most importantly, the hero, the key element of the action novel, must be complex. Honorable, honest, powerful, intelligent, conflicted, brave – he must embody all these characteristics. What’s interesting about The Master Sniper, however, is the presence of both the hero and the anti-hero. Leets, despite his physical ailments, his bum leg and his lack of power, has the tenacity and determination of a bulldog. Repp has equal amounts tenacity and determination, but rather than being aware of his limitations, Repp has the self-assured invincibility of the delusional. While both are working towards the greater good, as they see it, Repp’s actions are decidedly evil. He is, at his most basic, a killer. Behind the safety and security of his sniper rifle, he has killed hundreds of men, some armed, some not, and he has no qualms killing those closest to him or those that are innocent. He is an emotionless robot, a killing machine; Leets is a flawed savior.

Readers have criticized Hunter for his possible lack of practical experience with shooting (though whatever he lacks in the real-life department, he makes up for with an exhaustive knowledge of World War Two-era weaponry) and for the story being unrealistic, dull or confusing. Contrary to those criticisms, The Master Sniper is a terrific, interesting read. While some readers might have felt burdened by the amount of German, it actually lent more authenticity to the novel. Other readers felt Leets and Susan’s relationship was irrelevant or distracting, but Susan was critical to Leets’s understanding of the depravity of the Nazis and the heartless killing of their Jewish prisoners. Finally, yes, The Master Sniper doesn’t have the polish of the Bob Lee Swagger novels, but it has an unusual take on World War Two-based action. Rather than focusing almost entirely on the Allied troops and the “good guys,” Hunter delves into the mindset of the SS. The result? A fascinating, well-written novel.

Source:

  • Hunter, Stephen. Sniper. Island Books, 1996 ISBN 9780440221876

Lee Child, “Worth Dying For”

When Jack Reacher hitches a ride into a remote Nebraskan town, he’s expecting to stay for one night. But after hearing about the Duncans, a trio of men who rule the county with fear and abuse, Reacher is unable to walk away. With the help of a few scared farmers, he methodically and mercilessly takes out Cornhusker football players, visiting thugs from Las Vegas and the Duncans, one by one. Worth Dying For is a deep look at the evil hidden between cornstalks, between farms – even between neighbors.

Plot Overview: Justice, Murder and the Midwest

Jack Reacher is a man of action, a man of morals, a man of few words. He hears about a problem, and he cuts it down to the barest bones, determining what is essential, what is not; what is life-threatening, what is not; who deserves punishment and who deserves justice. His moral code is so strong, so innate that despite what other goals or tasks lie before him, he is compelled to right a wrong, even if it puts his own life and agenda in jeopardy.

When Reacher stumbles upon the Apollo Motel, a space-age throwback to the 1960s, he thinks he’s found a place – a somewhat odd place, but a place nonetheless – to rest his head for the night. Unfortunately, he never does get the chance to sleep for more than a few hours before his internal hero alarm clock starts beeping.

After accompanying the local doctor, an alcoholic, to tend Eleanor Duncan, a woman who is routinely abused by her husband, Reacher seeks out the offending spouse to deliver his own justice: a mean punch to the face. This one act of retribution, the likes of which has never been seen by the put-upon and miserable inhabitants of the Nebraskan farming community, spurs the Duncan brothers to violently end the “mysterious stranger’s” life.

While Reacher easily fends off one corn-fed heavy after another, the Duncans are trying to salvage their business. They are the bottom link in a long series that transports unknown and valuable cargo. When one shipment arrives late, the Duncans decide to blame Reacher. The other links in the chain send their fighters to take out “the stranger,” though they grossly underestimate his abilities. And with Reacher coming closer to discovering the truth of the cargo, the Duncans and their allies will waste no time in trying to make him – and each other – disappear.

Criticisms and Compliments

Atlhough Lee Child has been writing about Jack Reacher and his heroics for years, he continues to make Reacher an admirable, interesting character. Reacher’s morals are never dull, his actions are never repetitive, his fighting skills and logic never stagnate. He is an evolving character, one whose desire for justice remains consistent and firm. But what really make Jack Reacher and Worth Dying For excellent are Lee Child’s storytelling skills. His style, which tends to echo Hemingway’s use of stark, simple sentences, is unique and minimal. Every word has a purpose, and every chapter is cleanly pieced together, like a small story in itself. Child is one of today’s best fiction writers.

While Worth Dying For is a must read, it does leave a few blanks unfilled. As the follow up to 61 Hours, Worth Dying For picks up moments after 61 Hours ends. Child makes no effort to summarize the events of the previous novel, which some readers will appreciate. For readers who have not enjoyed 61 Hours, however, there are some questions as to how and why Reacher is heading to Virginia. Child makes one reference to 61 Hours in order to explain Reacher’s injuries, but otherwise he remains in the present, writing only of the now. Still, Worth Dying For is a book worth reading – immediately.

Source:

  • Child, Lee. Worth Dying For: A Jack Reacher Novel. Dell, 2011 ISBN 9780440246299

Scott Mariani, “The Mozart Conspiracy”

The second novel of Scott Mariani’s series, The Mozart Conspiracy follows Ben Hope, a hero in the manner of James Bond, as he searches for the reason behind his friend Oliver’s death. Working together with Oliver’s sister, Ben uses all the tools at his disposal – including pistols and nail guns – to find his friend’s murderer. With elements of love, friendship and graphic violence, The Mozart Conspiracy is a wild ride of a novel.

Plot Overview: Conspiracies, Murder and Mozart

Ben Hope is a stoic, tense man, one who spends his life rescuing kidnapped children. When his ex-girlfriend, popular opera singer Leigh Llewellyn, reaches out to him following her brother’s murder, the soft-hearted and hard-bodied hero agrees to meet. Together, the two trace Oliver’s last steps and the origins of a mysterious letter written by Mozart.

As Ben and Leigh begin to discover who murdered Oliver and why, their lives and those of the people around them are threatened. Joining forces with a local Austrian police detective, Ben and Leigh fight off vicious thugs who are members of the sinister Order of Ra. Outnumbered, the trio will stop at nothing, not even murder, to find the truth.

Criticisms and Compliments

Mariani’s The Mozart Conspiracy is written in the same vein as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or Harlan Coben‘s Myron Bolitar series. Mariani, like Coben, provides a trickle of clues, each one guaranteeing the reader only knows as much as the characters. Both Mariani and Coben also appear to have such power over their plots, casually doling out information that leads to explosive reveals. And like Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, The Mozart Conspiracy exposes the secret and sometimes corrupt actions of an ancient society.

Mariani, who is a musician himself, thoughtfully explores the world of music as only someone with experience can. He writes with accuracy and a depth of feeling, and his background in music makes his proposed link between Mozart and the Freemasons that much more plausible. It is accepted knowledge that Mozart was a Freemason in his time and that The Magic Flute contains various Masonic symbols; Mariani, however, takes it one step further, suggesting that not only was Mozart an upstanding member of the society, but his death was also at the hands of a sinister side group.

The Mozart Conspiracy is a fast, page-turning read. Although Mariani does not shy away from describing violence and murder, his novel is terrific, both in its plot and in its protagonist, courageous Ben Hope.

Source:

  • Mariani, Scott. The Mozart Conspiracy: A Novel. Touchstone, 2011 ISBN 9781439193365

Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos, “Blue Gold”

Kurt Austin and his right-hand man and partner, Joe Zavala, are deep into a high-speed boat race when a pod of dead whales floats to the surface. The presence of the massive, decomposing creatures puts a quick and destructive end to the race and leads Austin and Zavala into an elaborate mystery. With the help of Paul and Gamay Trout, the group of NUMA investigators will risk their lives to stop a megalomaniac seeking to privatize water sources.

Plot Overview: Whales, Water and Money

In 1991 Professor Francesca Cabral is flying from Sao Paolo to the United States when the pilots suddenly change course. She discovers they are hired guns, and in the ensuing fight, her bodyguard and both pilots are killed. Francesca and her world-changing scientific development go down with the plane – or so it seems.

Ten years later, Paul and Gamay Trout are studying dolphins in the Venezuelan rainforest. When a favor for their host turns into a battle, their survival hinges on escaping through the untamed forest. During the getaway, the Trouts stumble upon their own mystery, one which will eventually converge with Austin and Zavala’s investigation.

In searching for the source of the whales’ deaths, Austin and Zavala travel to Mexico, where they come across a common tortilla factory – except that it has an advanced, underwater facility. After the facility mysteriously explodes, Austin and Zavala track down a Scandinavian Amazon, a power-hungry, wealthy monster who dreams of absolute authority over the world.

Criticisms and Compliments

Cussler and Kemprecos churn out another terrific “NUMA Files” novel with Blue Gold. What is so entertaining about Cussler’s plots is how realistic they seem; the privatization of water and threats to the world’s water supply could be ripped from headlines. Moreover, Cussler and Kemprecos take it upon themselves to emphasize the moral and ethical consequences of trying to manipulate the distribution of water, one of the planet’s most valuable resources.

Blue Gold, like most Cussler novels, contains frequent action sequences, which Kurt Austin has the talent of surviving; no matter how dangerous or impossible, Austin will come out fairly unscathed. However, Blue Gold, like The Navigator, starts out at a moderate pace, but gains speed as the plot moves forward. It is worth reading the first hundred pages just to get into the flow of the action. Blue Gold is an exciting, fascinating read – the real question is why Hollywood hasn’t come knocking at Cussler’s door.

Source:

Cussler, Clive and Paul Kemprecos. Blue Gold: A Novel from the NUMA Files. Pocket (Reprint edition), 2010 ISBN 9781439188613