Sunday, August 21, 2016

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

     Jason Dressen is a physics professor at second rate Lakemont College in Chicago. A family man, content with the choices he’s made and his station in life. But, maybe there is some regret, a few “what ifs” that haunt him from time to time. But when Jason is kidnapped at gun-point and taken to an abandoned power plant, he knows exactly what is important to him, exactly how much his family and comfortable life mean to him. As he begins to lose consciousness from the drugs administered by his kidnapper, believing death is imminent, the kidnapper asks, “Do you regret your decision to stay with Daniela and make a life with her?” Jason answers, “No…never.” He wakes up in a world that isn’t his. He’s Jason Dressen, a renowned, award winning physicist, successful beyond his wildest imagination. But he has never married, no son. And he doesn’t remember any of it. The novel is then about Jason’s quest to get back to his wife and child, no matter the cost, while navigating scientific breakthroughs that he discovered, yet doesn’t understand.
     DarkMatter is Black Crouch’s eighteenth novel, but the first I’ve read. It is a science fiction mystery, not something I usually read, but after hearing so much about it from so many different people, I had to give it a try. The science was a little over my head, but no so much that I didn’t understand the implications it had on the rest of the story.
     Mr. Crouch does excellent work in the development of Jason Dressen, something that seems hard to do in a fast paced thriller. A man who starts as a content, humble, and somewhat timid man has to become more than that to accomplish his goal. He not only needs to find his strength, but also a viciousness that most of us hope we never need; and to learn that sometimes love means letting go. The challenges he faces in the alternate realities force him to do that, but if he’s able to find his own world, his Daniela, will he be the same Jason he was when he was taken?
     Science Fiction readers will love Dark Matter, I’m sure. But if you’re a mystery/thriller lover, step just outside your comfort level and give it a try. I expect you’ll be thrilled you did!

Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter, Crown, July 26, 2016. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1101904220

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: REVOLVER by Duane Swierczynski

     The Walczak and the Wildey Families are True Blue, each with three generations of Philadelphia Police officers. But that is where their similarities end. The Walczaks are white, the Wildeys are black and they might as well come from different worlds. But they are more connected than they think.    
     Revolver, by Duane Swierczynaki, begins in 1967 with the murder of Stanislaw “Stan” Walczak and his partner, George Wildey, in an unmarked corner bar.  From there the story covers the next two generations of Walczak cops, the son, James Walczak in 1995, and grandsons Stas and Cary Walczak in 2015. Each joined the force to slay a demon, and, it seems, none can do so without destroying a piece of the other.
Author Duane Swierczynski
     Each chapter of Revolver is set in either 1965, 1995, or 2015 to tell the story of the Walczak family. 1965 is the story of Stan and George and the months that lead to their murder. In 1995, Jim Walczak is a homicide detective, investigating the rape and murder of a young woman while dealing, poorly, with the parole of the man long suspected but never convicted of killing his father. And in 2015, the family deals with Audrey, the youngest Walczak child, who returned to Philadelphia after hardly talking to the family for nearly three years, for the fiftieth anniversary of the death of her grandfather. Audrey, a graduate student in Crime Scene Investigation, has problems of her own, the least of which is that she’s about to be kicked out of the program because she hasn’t completed her independent project. While in Philadelphia, she decides what that project will be: to solve the murder of Grandpop Stan and his partner, George Wildey.
     Duane Swierczynski not only tells a compelling and entertaining story, he tackles some important social issues from the 1960s and today. Police violence and brutality, prohibition that evolved into a war on drugs, and race. And he does so in a way that clearly demonstrates that these issues are not new to police work. Consider this conversation between Stan and George, in 1965, at the height of Philadelphia’s race riots and months before their deaths:

     “I’ve never done anything to these people.”…
     …“Look, man,” George says, “you talk to anybody in the Jungle. I’m talkin’ anybody, from a street tough to a minister to a gospel singer to a smiling grandma sitting on her front stoop. They’ve all got one thing in common.”
     “What’s that?”
     “At some point—and I guarantee this to be one hundred percent true—some cop has treated them like shit.”
     “Come on, everybody’s been hassled by the police at some point.”
     “Uh-uh. I’m not talking about hassling somebody because they ran a light. I’m talking about cops fucking with them just because of the color of their skin. Man, it happens to me. So you’ve got to cut them a break, give ’em time. There’s good people in this neighborhood. We just have to earn their trust.”

Those words are just as true today as they were in 1965, and resistance to them just as strong.

     I feel it would not be right to review Revolver and not mention that the book contained one of the funniest stories in recent memory; laugh out loud, read to the others in the room funny. While I won’t spoil it, I will give readers a clue: an interrogation technique that must have been developed from a scene in the movie A Christmas Story!

Swierczynski, Duane. Revolver, Mulholland Press, July 19, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-316-40323-8

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


     Rookie New Orleans Police Officer Maureen Coughlin returns LET THE DEVIL OUT by Bill Loehfelm, the fourth book in the series and the third set Mr. Loehfelm’s hometown. A reader of the series has gotten to know Officer Coughlin as a tough, passionate, determined self-made woman who learned the hard way that she had to take care of herself. But in the course of doing so, has picked up some bad habits that seem to be catching up with her in The Big Easy. 
     LET THE DEVIL OUT begins where the previous book in the series, DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK left off. Maureen is riding out her paid suspension after she was involved in the death of a corrupt New Orleans police officer. But instead of taking the time to deal with her myriad life issues, including an attempt on her life by the Watchman, a Sovereign Citizen group based in rural Louisiana, she spends her time drinking and abusing drugs, hanging out in bars, lurking anonymously in the corner, because, “Somebody in this bar who didn’t even know she was there needed her.” Maureen is embroiled in inner conflict between the pain, anger, and desire for violence, a proxy fight against long dead enemies, and her return to work, upholding the law, order, and justice, which she views mystically:

“She realized that when she had thought about her badge over the past weeks, she had assigned it a mystical identity, like a lost relic in an old adventure movie, a glowing and humming talisman lost in the depths of a yawning cave or crumbling temple. An object of power and value like Excalibur or the Ark of the Covenant or the One Ring, it waited for her, only her, to rescue it from useless oblivion. The badge had become her Precious.”

     Not unexpectedly, Maureen’s unhealthy habits seem to influence her behavior more than her desire to protect and serve the people of the City of New Orleans. But when she’s asked for a favor from the FBI that, if things work out well, could fast track her to a detective badge, and a series of shootings that target police officers, she works hard to do the right thing, to make her training officer and sergeant proud, and solve the case against the Watchman and the people funding them that was left unfinished. 

     LET THE DEVIL OUT is a story about Maureen Coughlin. At that, Mr. Loehfelm succeeds, creating a character on the brink of either complete and utter self-destruction or becoming a hero all readers can love and respect for becoming the police officer she wants to become while overcoming the scars left behind by the many devils of her past. But in the development of Maureen, a lot of reality of policing was sacrificed, allowing a rookie police officer the latitude and independence to blow-off entire patrol shifts, to disappear with FBI agents and witness shootings with little or no follow-up, and having veteran officers participate in what would otherwise appear to be schemes of a troubled, rookie patrol officer.
     But just as Maureen, and the novel, seemed too far gone, there is hope, both for Maureen and the case against The Watchman, setting up for what fans of Bill Loehfelm and Maureen Coughlin can only hope will be a fifth book in the series.

“If there was anyone she’d get a medal for gunning down, Maureen thought, here he was. But was that the kind of hero she wanted to be? Because, she thought, here also was the head of the Watchmen, wanted by the FBI, the NOPD…Taking him alive would save lives. Many lives. And she had him caught. He had nowhere to go…Then his gun hand whipped right at her.”

I’m looking forward to it.

Loehflem, Bill. Let the Devil Out. Sarah Crighton Books  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. July 5, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-374-29857-9. 

An advance copy of  Let the Devil Out  was provided by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Monday, May 23, 2016


     HonkyTonk Samurai is the eleventh book in author Joe Lansdales Hap & Leonard series, which also includes a TV show bearing their names on the Sundance Channel. Mr. Lansdale is one of my favorite authors, largely based on TheThicket, which was a great work of historical fiction that went beyond genre expectations. Honky Tonk Samurai is my first featuring Hap & Leonard.
     Hap & Leonard are working for friend Marvin Hanson at his private detective firm. While on a relatively simple job, Leonard finds himself taking justice into his own hands when he sees a man abusing a dog. Just as it seems the two will walk away from Leonard’s vigilantism unscathed, a crass old woman comes to the detective agency with video of the incident that would not only cause problems for Leonard, but their friend, the newly appointed police chief. But the old woman isn’t interested in money, instead she wants Hap and Leonard to look for her missing granddaughter, Sandy, the only family she has left. Sandy was last known to be working for a classic car dealer before disappearing five years ago. Without much choice, they take the case, and find that Sandy’s disappearance is part of prostitution, bribery, and murder associated with the sale of overpriced classic cars.
     One of the reasons I’m a fan of Lansdale is the dynamic characters in his novels. Honky Tonk Samurai does not disappoint. In addition to those I presume make regular appearances in the series are a family of inbred serial killers and a sexy transgendered front woman for the classic car business. Those characters are surrounded by clever, if not a little overused, writing.

“As an old gray-haired addict called Two-Toe George told me and Leonard once, ‘When you start wanting meth more than you want pussy or a rib-eye steak, then you know you got, like, a serious fucking drug problem’

Two-Toe George was a philosopher”
Author Joe Lansdale
     But for as many snide, funny, sometimes hilariously vulgar lines (“You could have pushed me down with a hummingbird fart”), there were also much more profound sections, reflections on life and death, aging, fatherhood, religion, and more.

“One some level, like the samurai of old, you have accepted your death. You are neither there to win or to lose. You are there to be in the moment… I might add right here that I say fuck the samurai. I planned to win. I planned to go home… And as that thought galloped through my head, another less pleasant thought showed up. Sometimes your luck runs out.”

     There were times that some of the wise-cracking, bad-assing, adversarial but affectionate bantering got a bit thick for my tastes, but it never took away from either the story, characters, and colorful action and violence.
     It is difficult for any author to keep characters interesting and dynamic after eleven books, but Mr. Lansdale has done that and more. Book twelve, RustyPuppy, is due out in 2017, and I’m looking forward to more of Hap & Leonard.    

Lansdale, Joe. Honky Tonk Samurai, Mullholland Books, February 2, 2016.

An advance copy of  Honky Tonk Samurai  was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was provided for this review. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

THE DOMINO GAME by Greg Wilson

     Nikolai Aven worked in the financial industry in post-Cold War Russia and did very well for himself, his wife Natalia, and their young daughter, Larissa. Nikolai was an optimist, he wanted to do some good for his country and fight the corruption that was becoming rampant. So he quit his job and became an agent with the FSB, the replacement KGB. But it wasn’t long before he learned that fighting corruption in a system that thrives on it isn’t easy, and found himself with with video evidence that got his source killed within a day of turning it over. He can’t go to the company that the evidence was stolen from and can’t go to his bosses, as they’re implicated. So, trusting his FSB partner, he turned to the United States CIA and their offer of a new life and new identity in America in exchange for the evidence. Station Chief Jack Hartman gave his word, but before the deal was made, Nikolai is arrested, tried, and convicted of treason. He is sent to a Russian prison and endures unthinkable acts during the nine years he spends there before his escape. Once out, he’s ready to get answers and settle scores. And he does both by combining his intelligence, financial and investigative skills, and the ruthlessness he developed in prison.
Author Greg Wilson
     Greg Wilson’s The Domino Game is a well-told international espionage thriller providing readers with an idea of life, government, and industry in post-Cold War Russia. The story is topical, a warning that the events in Russia should not be ignored.
     Mr. Wilson did best writing the events leading to Nikolai’s fall and subsequent time in prison. The character was a good, honest, altruistic man turned into a hard, ruthless killer in order to survive. But the good guy was not entirely lost, even after the life and family he knew was stolen from him. The transition of the Nikolai Aven character was well done.
     Mr. Wilson provided a strong and thrilling ending. The last hundred pages were so intense I found myself wanting to skim ahead to find out what happened, but not able to skip a single word!
     The Domino Game is not a short book. At over five hundred pages, even with a powerful beginning and thrilling ending there was a lull in the middle, particularly when describing how the money trail and laundering process worked. Even with time taken to explain it, I was still somewhat confused about how the Russian oligarchs were infiltrating American businesses and what dangers that infiltration represented.
     Despite the development of Nikolai Aven that I liked, other characters in the book were lacking. Some started strong, like Tom Hartman’s daughter, Kelly, but fizzled as the book progressed. Others that played significant roles in the book seemed more like extras, which discounted their betrayal.
     The Domino Game is a good book with a strong story that could have been great with some extra attention to editing and character development.

Wilson, Greg. The Domino Game, Equis Publishing, March 18, 2016. ASIN B01A970SEG

An advance copy of The Domino Game was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was provided for this review. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

COLD BARREL ZERO by Matthew Quirk

     Hayes and his unit were black ops, knowledge of their operation would be disavowed if they were captured or killed. When returning from a mission, they were ambushed. Hayes saw the man behind it and recognized him as an ally of his ambitious Colonel Riggs. Upon return to base, Hayes saw the same man killing-massacring-the civilian population. Hayes fought back, tried to defend the civilians, but it was too late. Riggs reported that it was Hayes and his men that turned, murdered the civilian population; it happens sometimes, he said, that black op units turn, forget what’s right and what’s wrong, he said. And, according to Riggs, it happened to Hayes.

     What would you do if your government was trying to kill you? Frame you for killing innocent civilians while serving honorably halfway around the world? Hunting you like a terrorist? Would you run? Create a new identity? Or try and kill those who set you up?
     In Cold Barrel Zero, the newest novel by Matthew Quirk, Hayes and his crew of US Special Forces soldiers didn’t do any of those things. Instead, they continued to protect and serve their country while dodging bullets and missiles meant for them, courtesy of the United States military.
     Hayes and his crew went beyond clearing their names and reputations. Hayes viewed himself as a soldier whose responsibility it was to protect and defend the people of the United States, even though the government had turned on him. At one point, while a friend was trying to convince him to flee:
I’m not running…”
“They’ll try you.”
“I knew what I was doing. If I broke the law, I’ll pay the price. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Don’t,” Byrne said. “They might execute you.”
“I can’t kill them all. I can’t make the believe at the point of a gun. This is too big for Riggs to control anymore. I have to trust my country”

Those words, “I have to trust my country,” in a time where there is so little trust, were powerful to me, and were perhaps the greatest explanation of a motive for Hayes. But maybe Hayes had to trust his country, because there was nothing or no one else to trust.

     Cold Barrel Zero, as a thriller, accomplishes its goals: it is exciting and fast paced, lots of action; an impossible mission of revenge, a race to prevent a terrorist attack in the United States, and even a little romance.

     The ending was satisfying, but I have to admit a little disappointment that Quirk, having nicely set up for a follow-up, decided to see the story through. I would enjoy more from Hayes and his crew.

Quirk, Matthew. Cold Barrel Zero, Mulholland Books, March 29, 2016. 
ISBN 979-0-316-25921-7

An advance copy of Cold Barrel Zero was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via  No compensation was provided for this review. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016


    Goodbyeto the Dead is the seventh novel by Brian Freeman featuring Duluth, Minnesota, police Lieutenant Jonathan Stride and partner Sergeant Maggie Bei. Picking up where the previous novel left off, readers find Stride and his live-in girlfriend and fellow police officer Serena Dial working through and seemingly getting past their relationship difficulties. Stride has always been afraid of the future after the death of his first wife and love of his life, Cindy, eight years earlier. In Goodbye to the Dead, Mr. Freeman takes readers back in time, when Cindy was still alive and well, and Stride is investigating the murder of prominent and controversial newspaper columnist Jay Ferris. The prime suspect is his wife, Dr. Janine Snow, a locally loved and respected surgeon, and a friend of Cindy’s. 
     The story goes back and forth from the past to the present, when a new case brings Stride and Bei back to the murder of Jay Ferris, the guilt or innocence of Dr. Snow and, of course, Cindy. It is a welcome look into Stride’s past, a chance for readers to learn and understand what it was between him and Cindy that continues to haunt him to this day. The story of the murder and the present case are both solid whodunits that kept me guessing, mostly incorrectly, throughout the novel. 
     But the murder investigation was the strongest part of the book. Mr. Freeman missed the opportunity to better develop Stride by explaining his past with Cindy. Nothing was learned about them that hadn’t been presented in other books. In this area, Mr. Freeman couldn’t find new ways to say what he had several times in the past.
Author Brian Freeman
     Like in his previous novels featuring Lieutenant Stride, Mr. Freeman struggles with police procedures, primarily in the areas of police employment and roles within a department. I understand authors taking liberties to make things fit together more fluidly, but the Stride series seems to entirely disregard rules about hiring, transfers, rehiring, discipline and termination, jurisdiction, and more. And it wouldn’t have been difficult to make small changes to make it fit together more genuinely. It leads me to believe Mr. Freeman either did no research on these issues and didn’t know any better, or did and chose to disregard what he learned. Either way, it disrespects police professionals and the structures, laws, and circumstances under which they work.
     Despite my criticisms, the strong plot carried Goodbye to the Dead. From beginning to end, the twists and turns kept coming and, even better, provided a moral and ethical dilemma beyond the guilt or innocence of the prime murder suspect.

Freeman, Brian. Goodbye to the Dead, Quercus, March 8, 2016. 
ISBN 978-1-62365-911-0

An advance copy of Goodbye to the Dead was provided by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review.