Sunday, February 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

    Author Caroline Kepnes introduced readers to the comical and likable stalker Joe Goldberg in her debut novel, YOU. The book is told from Joe’s perspective and begins when he meets the love of his life, Beck, while working at a rare book store in New York City. Despite Joe’s unstable behavior and propensity to turn to murder in order to solve problems, it is difficult not to like him. And while it may say more about me than the book, YOU left me empathizing with Joe more than I probably should. 
     HIDDEN BODIES picks up where YOU left off. Joe has moved on, and the new love of his life is Amy. When he feels Amy betrays him, he follows here to Los Angeles, hurt turned to anger, in search of revenge. But despite some ups and downs in the beginning, he finds a new love in Love Quinn. He soon forgets about Amy and forges ahead with his new life and Love. Of course he can’t leave all his old habits behind, and kills a few people, but real growth can be seen in Joe, as demonstrated here as he worries about the murders of two women New York:
“I think the justice system should see where I am now, how far I’ve come, all the good I have to lose. They should stop prodding into my past. It’s so vengeful, so middle school, the way they want to boil my entire life down into these two dead girls.”
Author Caroline Kepnes
     HIDDEN BODIES is a solid follow-up to YOU. All of the best aspects are there, along with some genuine growth in the Joe Goldberg character. The story is also told in the first person, from Joe’s perspective, and provides dark humor in the ramblings and ups and downs of an obsessed madman; maybe a JD Salinger meets Carl Hiassen, am I right or am I right? (Sorry, HIDDEN BODIES inside jokes…)
     In addition to a good story, Kepnes seems to enjoy poking a little fun at the fine people of Los Angeles and their aspirations, which at first offend Joe before he realizes he has some of his own.
     Just as soon as you might think Joe has forgotten about his mission of finding Amy and seeking his revenge, she is delivered to him, fate, as it were. Will his new life, success, and realized dreams be enough to save her?
     A good measure of an author’s talent is how well readers can relate and empathize with characters, especially those that are bad, broken, evil. In both YOU and HIDDEN BODIES, Kepnes did that, and I often found myself torn between Joe and his victims, who are also presented as real people, lost and damaged, and wanting them both to live happily ever after. On second thought, what fun would that be?

Kepnes, Caroline. Hidden Bodies, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, February 23, 2016.  
ISBN-13 978-1476785622

An advance copy of Hidden Bodies was provided to The Thirty Year Itch via NetGalley. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Where it Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

     Gus Murphy was a shell of the man he had been two years ago, before the death of his son. He was going through the motions, living, if you can call it that, one day at a time, consumed in grief and pity as his life crumbled around him. Gus went from being a happy husband, father of two, veteran Suffolk County Police Officer, to driving a courtesy van for a fledgling hotel on Long Island, living in a room he was provided as compensation for his work.
     Gus was nearing his bottom when Tommy Delcamino, a low level criminal he had the pleasure of arresting several times over his career, found him at the hotel. Tommy’s son had been murdered, and Tommy thought the police were doing nothing about it, so he came to Gus for help.
Tommy’s request proved to be life-changing for Gus, providing him with challenges he never could have imagined, and not just in the difficulty of helping Tommy. Gus had to question everything: who he had been, who he had become, his career, what was left of his marriage, what was left of his life. The process nearly cost him his life, but in the end, arguably saved it.
In Where it Hurts, Mr. Coleman created a great balance in storytelling and character development. Protagonist Gus Murphy transforms from an angry, broken down, hopeless ex-cop to a damaged but optimistic man learning to live again. With more insight than one might expect from a crime fiction, Gus recognizes that his life will never be the same after the death of his son, but he has to find a new normal that will suit what he has become. He does so relentlessly and honestly,
Author Reed Farrel Coleman
“What was left of him lived now only as pieces of the people who had known him. And when we were dead and in the wind, he would be forgotten. That was still the hardest part to take, that he would be forgotten so soon.”  
     But Where it Hurts is not just about Gus Murphy and his rebirth. It includes a fast-paced and well told story containing everything a good murder mystery should: theft, drugs, sex, murder, and corruption!
     I look forward to reading more about Gus Murphy and his progress. But as I found myself hopeful, Gus himself provided a warning about the very hope that he had created,
“I hoped it was real, but I knew hope was the meanest feeling humans were capable of. Nothing tortured you the way hope could.”

Coleman, Reed Farrel. Where it Hurts, G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2016. 
ISBN 13 978-0399173035 

An advance copy of Where it Hurts was provided by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Knife by Ross Ritchell

   A knife is a tool: it cuts things. Like all tools, it can be used for good and bad. Sometimes, bad things can happen when it's being used for good. The nature of a tool. 
     The knife that is the tool being used in The Knife, the debut novel by Ross Ritchell, is a five man special operation force in Afghanistan. They are a precision team that makes surgical strikes, cutting away at the enemy. The team is led by Shaw, on his tenth deployment, and includes Massey, Hagan, Delonna, and Cooke. They're are likable young men that, except for being drawn together by war, would probably never have become friends, never even met. 
     The novel is an account of the team and their work. Told in the third person, the prose is both poetic at times:
     Besides someone having an interesting mustache or getting whacked in their underwear, the kills weren't worth much of a second thought. Holding a weapon? Two in the chest. Strapped with a vest? Two in the head. If he'd wait a second longer it'd be him on the floor leaving into the ground, or one of his buddies. Maybe a building full of people. It was work. Living over life, way of the knife.  
and remarkably objective and unemotional at others:
They got all four of the Pups...Lion1 was upstairs in bed with is wife, an AK loaded and lying between them. He got two shots off on Ohio before Mike killed him, and then the wife picked up the rifle and Mike had to put two through her middle. It happened fast."
     The cadence is slow and dark, whether telling about one of their operations, their constant training, or Hagan's sexual proclivity. It is not bogged down with explanations for the military slang and acronyms throughout the book. (A glossary at the end will help ease confusion if necessary.)

     There is depth and development of characters, but it comes from dialogue: 
     "Sky's pretty," Hagan Said. He spat over the lip of the roof. "Too bad the rest of the county is such shit."     It's not shit, Hog," Massey said. "Dumbass cell leaders and pricks just crap all over it and then we come over and piss on it some more and then everyone wonders why it's such a shit country. It's not...It's a place full of people that wipe their assess with the land for God, oil, or country--whatever the fuck--and wonder why it stinks so bad. The land is beautiful. We're shit." He shook his head. "I'd want to be buried in a country this beautiful."
Author Ross Ritchell
     That the story is told objectively does not mean that readers will not feel emotion, they will, very powerful ones that are certain to include laughter, tears, love, disgust, and everything else that one might expect when spending time in a war zone with five soldiers. But the emotions will be a reaction, raw and powerful, originating from within the reader, not prescribed by the author. 
     Many war novels are abstract, filled with symbolism to be interpreted by every reader, by inner narratives that share the struggles of combat and reactions to it. That The Knife is so simply told is what makes it more powerful and is what sets it apart from many of the others. 
      If it's true that authors write what they know, then Mr. Ritchell knows more about war, death, and killing then any man should.  Thank you for sharing it. 

Ritchell, Ross. The Knife, Blue Rider Press, Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016. 
ISBN 978-0-399-17340-0

A copy of The Knife was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: City of Rose by Rob Hart

     Fans of Rob Hart’s NEW YORKED won’t be disappointed by the return of Ashley “Ash” McKenna, the good hearted but admittedly damaged, sometimes dangerous, clever but not always smart private investigator (sort of) who always controls his anger, except when it controls him. 
    CITY OF ROSE is set in Portland, Oregon, where Ash has relocated after leaving New York in search of new beginnings, and away from those who may feel New YorkCity isn’t big enough for their peaceful coexistence.  In Portland, Ash is a bouncer and janitor at a fledgling, vegan-themed strip club, Naturals. He is keeping to himself, trying to stay away from anything that he felt was the cause of the troubles he left behind, which seems to be everything. When Crystal, one of the dancers at Naturals, hearing exaggerated rumors of his experience as a PI, asks for his help finding her daughter, Ash turns her down. But a few hours and a pistol whipping later, he agrees to help, despite the promises of danger that come with it. 
Author Rob Hart
  CITY OF ROSE is written in the same refreshingly dark and dirty style of Mr. Hart’s NEW YORKED. When trying to buy a six-pack of Guinness beer in a Portland brewery, the clerk, asks Ash, “Are you sure?” and gives him a sample of their own micro-brewed IPA:

    “Isn’t that awesome?” he (the clerk) asks. “That’s sixty-eight IBU. That’s like nuclear hops.”
    “I hate you,” I tell him, trying not to gag. “Sell me the Guinness.”
    He rolls his eyes. “If you insist.”
    “Yeah motherfucker, I do insist.”
    He runs the transaction through, takes my money, and even though I’ve got my hand out he puts the change down on the counter, turning away from me like I’ve insulted his mother. 

    The characters are rich and dynamic. Of course there’s Ash and Crystal, but secondary characters are well developed, too. Tommie, the lesbian proprietor of Naturals who claims to have had the idea of a Vegan strip club first! And Hood, Ash’s counterpart at the bar, fan of BattlestarGalactica, nicknamed after Mt. Hood because of his size.  
    Like the great characters, the plot won’t disappoint, either. It is fast paced, balanced nicely, and kept me in suspense. Like a good story, the mystery wasn’t apparent until Hart wanted it to be, and it was not what most readers would expect. 

Hart, Rob. City of Rose, Polis Books, February 9, 2016.

An advance copy of City of Rose was provided to The Itch by the author. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

     John Rebus, recently retired from Police Scotland, was having a hard time adjusting. When he was approached by his friend and former coworker Siobhan Clark, he didn’t hesitate to get back to work. It seems his old friend and nemesis--it’s complicated-- had a bullet come through his window, missing him by inches. The man, prominent mobster Big Ger Cafferty, will only talk with Rebus.  
     Clark is also in the middle of an inquiry into the murder of a prominent jurist, Lord David Minton, with few clues and no apparent motive.  Detective Inspector Malcom Fox is assigned to help a highly specialized team from Glasgow in the surveillance of another group of criminals, Joe Stark and his son Dennis, in Edinburgh from Glasgow looking for their missing colleague Hamish Wright and whatever it was he took before he disappeared, and maybe trying to move in on Cafferty and a young organized criminal, Daryl Christie.
     Rebus discovers a series of horrific, decades old crimes that would destroy the reputations of well respected, prominent members of the community, including police officials, if made public.  Rebus himself questions whether it even mattered if they were solved, if justice may be better served letting the killer continue on his quest.
Yet somehow it did—it did matter. Always had, always would. Not because of any of the victims or perpetrators, but for Rebus himself. Because if none of it mattered, then neither did he.
     Even Dogs in the Wild is the twentiethbook featuring John Rebus, a series spanning nearly thirty years. It is difficult for even the best authors to maintain a character in a series that long, but Rankin does so successfully here. As the above quote implies, the characters—Rebus, Cafferty, Stark—are adjusting to their diminished relevance, making way for the next generation of cops and gangsters.
One last good fight in me…
Author Ian Rankin
          Rankin does an excellent job blurring the line between the good guys and the bad, as they help each other when there are shared interests, staying on guard when there aren’t, and briefly but valuably examining how crime victims can be changed forever, and sometimes turned into criminals. The human aspects of police officers and criminals and the effects of crime are subtly but effectively demonstrated.

Rankin, Ian. Even Dogs in the Wild, Little, Brown & Company, January 19, 2016. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316342513

An advance copy of Even Dogs in the Wild  was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler

     Edward Snowden damaged the National Security Administration. Now, years later, current NSA Director General Ted Anders was not going to let that happen again. To do so, after all, would prevent him from keeping America safe; the good of the many v. the good of the few thing, right? 
     Evelyn Gallagher was a dedicated NSA analyst and computer genius. She had developed software that could track nearly all security camera systems in the world and, even more remarkably, identify people using biometric data. When she identified a senior NSA staffer meeting with a journalist known for his work exposing government excesses, it raised a red flag. But when one of those men was dead and the second kidnapped by jihadists and left for dead within hours after reporting her findings to General Anders, Evie started piecing things together, not only about this incident, but others that preceded it. She is immediately torn between her suspicions and the need for her job, not only because of its importance, but because she is the sole provider for her little boy. 
     The God's Eye View is incredibly entertaining, a thriller that travels the world and encounters some of the most dangerous, distasteful people in its darkest corners. Nothing about author Barry Eisler's writing or story telling will keep readers wanting. The book is well balanced between a compelling plot, character development, sex, love, and violence. 
     Unique to many books in the genre, Mr. Eisler does a great job with character development. Our hero, Evelyn Gallagher and her son; the power hungry and increasingly delusional General Anders; the NSA muscle, Thomas Delgado and Marvin Manus; even General Ander's assistant, General Mike Remar. None are treated as secondary in their role in the book, and they're developed enough that I had felt a connection with each of them, although some more pleasant than others! 
     But the book is more than just a thriller. It is a statement about the degradation of privacy and liberty in America and the world and about the dangers that have resulted and will continue to. About the paranoia that often comes with power. And about how complacently most Americans have allowed it to happen, even want it to happen, as long as it doesn't interfere with their day to day lives. 
"I implement what the people want, even if they don't have the integrity and self-awareness to admit they want it. And I have no patience for anyone who enjoys meat but moans about slaughterhouses, who wears cheap clothes but deplores sweatshops, who weeps about climate change from behind the wheel of an SUV or from the window seat of an airplane."
     Of course, General Ander's quote above is in defense of the drastic measures he takes to protect America and to keep America's secrets. But that argument isn't foreign to many Americans or our politicians. Ironically, as The God's Eye View points out, the threat to America sometimes needs protected from comes from the people making that very argument. And when finally confronted, General Remar's response: 
"He sighed. 'Let's not be naive. We're not subverting democracy; democracy was subverted a long time ago...It's NSA management or corporate management. And believe me, you don't want the corporations running the show all by themselves. We're not exactly Thomas Jefferson, okay, that ship has sailed, but we're not complete slaves of mammon, either.'"
     While the story told in The God's Eye View is fiction, there are referenences to current events, news stories, conspiracy theories, and the methods used to control the media over the last decade and a half. Mr. Eisler goes one step further, provided readers with a list of sources at the end of the book that include news articles, scholarly works, and other links.  

     Whether you read The God's Eye View for the great story, dynamic characters, thrills, or the deeper statement it makes, I'm confident you'll enjoy it. But don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to remove mobile phone batteries, cover web cameras when not in use, and debate whether it's better to send files unencrypted hoping they won't be noticed versus encrypting but drawing attention to them! 

Eisler, Barry. The God's Eye View, Thomas & Mercer, February 2, 2016. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1503951518

A copy of The God's Eye View was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was provided for this review.