Category Archives: Thrillers

Review: Line of Sight (James Queally)

Line of Sight open with Russ Avery – former reporter, now PI – helping a dirty cop clean up a mess he’s made. So we know, at least, that Avery can cross a moral line.

Avery is subsequently offered a job by Key, a Black activist and friend, to look into the death of Kevin Mathis. Mathis’ death was determined to be just another drug-related shooting in a town that never lacks them. The twist on this is that Mathis was in possession of a video that appears to show a police officer shooting a friend of his. Mathis’ father, Austin, is convinced his son was also killed by a cop.

Avery, knowing that the release of that video would blow up, requests that they give him a little time to start asking around, and not release the video. The problem for Avery: if he starts asking questions about an officer-involved shooting, his steady stream of “fixing” for cops is going to dry up fairly quickly.

He goes on anyway, his reporter brain fully engaged. Along the way we meet retired cops, active cops, and – thankfully – the really dirty cop who appears in the video. I say thankfully, because sometimes, in books like this, the bad guy doesn’t show up until a few pages from the end of the book, and it’s impossible to even make an in informed guess of whodunnit.

There’s a decent amount of action, and there are protests not unlike current event here in the US as I type this, which bring to mind the Black Live Matter protests, when Key and Mathis’ father release the video to the press. Russ manages to get himself beat up, arrested, and given a very stern talking to by his ex-girlfriend, who is still employed at the paper from which he was fired.

Overall, I’m giving it four out of five stars. The opening is a little slow, but once things get moving, we are along for the ride as Avery pokes his nose into places the people in charge don’t want him to go.

Thanks to NetGalley and Polis Books for the reading copy.

Under Pressure – Robert Pobi – review

Under Pressure is the second book to feature Lucas Page, but the first I’ve read.

The opening is at the Guggeheim, where a ton of very wealthy people are present at a party for a high-tech environmental cleaning company (think fracking sites, and the like), with a multibillion dollar IPO looming. All seems rather genteel until a thermobaric bomb ignites, vaporizing the people and the art, leaving the building itself relatively intact.

Brett Kehoe, Special Agent In Charge/Manhattan, faced with the daunting task of sorting out 700+ dead and solving the mystery of why anyone would want to kill them, calls on ex-FBI agent, and current instructor at Columbia, Lucas Page to assist. Page is reluctant, but finally agrees, and we are whisked off to an almost nonstop ride of bombings, close calls, and mysteries that deepen as more people die.

At the heart of the mystery seems to be the Hockney brothers, William and Seth, and their sprawling megacorp. Are the bombings simply a statement against their companies, or is something more personal the core of it? While I have some issues with overly-complex conspiracies, and the habit, often, of main characters heading out into danger on their own, without telling anyone, to see if their reasoning/guess is correct about the bad guy, overall this was not a book killer.

Page, who lost a leg, arm, and eye in something he calls the Event, has a genius-level ability to instantly calculate areas, distances, see connections where others see none, and apparently possesses an eidetic memory. It reminded me quite a bit of the TV series Numb3rs. He is not terribly patient with people he views as stupid, is cranky a lot of times, and can be bitingly sarcastic. I liked him immensely.

Teasing out the mystery becomes more and more dangerous the closer Page gets to the truth, and in the end becomes, for him, a calculation of odds. To say more would give away too much. I will say this, though: be aware of the handcuffs. Chekov’s pistol has never been more apt.

Solid four stars.

Note: while there is enough backstory to know what has come before, I would suggest that if you intend to read the first book (City of Windows), you do that first before reading this. There’s a spoiler in this book for the last – it’s a blink and you miss it thing, but it’s there.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur for the reading copy.

The Last Agent

The Last Agent reunites us with Charles Jenkins, acquitted of espionage in the previous book The Eighth Sister, who has put the events of that book behind him and rebuilt his life. Or so he thinks.

A CIA agent shows up on his doorstep – again. After being rebuffed at Jenkins’ house, the agent corrals him at the local diner and tells him the agency needs him once more. For real, this time. They believe that Paulina Ponomayova, who saved Jenkins’ life in The Eighth Sister by giving her own, is not actually dead, but is being held in one of the toughest prisons in Russia. They’re not sure she’s there, or what information she may have given up on the other Sisters. They are sure that they want Jenkins to return to Russia, free her from the prison, and get her out of the country.

I wondered at this point just how long the author was going to push a 6′ 5″, 65 year old black man into a country where a) he sticks out like a 6′ 5″, 65 year old black man would in a rather overwhelmingly white country, and b) he’s already been there, is known to the FSB (the KGB’s successor), and has previously created havoc there.

Jenkins isn’t sure he wants to go, is definitely sure his wife and kids won’t want him to go, but does feel that he owes Paulina to help her if he can. Of course he signs on, and once again, he’s off to Mother Russia.

Viktor Federov is back (and on a side note, I would love to have a couple of books about THAT guy), retired now from the FSB thanks to his inability to catch Jenkins in The Eighth Sister. Jenkins blackmails him into assisting, first with figuring out a way to get Paulina out of the prison, and then getting all of them away safely.

I won’t spoil any of that except to say that the bank scene was quite funny, and one of the nonverbal discussions with Paulina is rather ingenious, relying on knowledge of where the cameras are and where the guards will be.

The chase that ensues – three targets instead of one – is now lead by a prototypical old KGB-style chief, who constantly silences his underlings, ignores the supposed lead investigator’s advice, but tells him failure will be on his head. When that investigator suddenly “retires” to take care of his father, it’s all out pursuit, by land, water, and even by air into another country’s airspace.

It’s a fun book, and better than The Eighth Sister, although readers will still have to up their suspension of disbelief game.

A solid four stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the reading copy.

Review: House Privilege (Joe DeMarco #14)

One of the best things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

One of the worst things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

I would say House Privilege falls into both of those categories for me. The first, because I do enjoy books like this, where a fixer works (mostly) behind the scenes to do things to support an Important Person, whether that Important Person is a politician, a big business/union leader, an athlete, and so on. The second, because it means that I don’t know the canon of that fixer: their history, their strengths or weaknesses, and how successful they’ve been in the past to fix something for their employer. As this is number fourteen in a series, I’d be inclined to guess that Joe DeMarco is fairly successful.

House Privilege opens with DeMarco returning to Washington, DC, after his equivalent of a mob no-show job was discovered with the political winds having changed the US government, and his Democrat boss John Mahoney lost his role as Speaker of the House. Those winds have changed again, and Mahoney is poised to reclaim the gavel and, by extension, return DeMarco to his post as Mahoney’s personal fixer. His first job seems relatively easy: check up on Cassie Russell, the only survivor of a small plane crash that killed her billionaire parents and that left Mahoney as her legal guardian, as Mahoney’s wife is out west, seeing to a terminally ill friend.

DeMarco dutifully heads to Boston, where he meets the girl and the Russell’s housekeeper, and finds Cassie thinks she will just stay in her parent’s home and doesn’t understand that isn’t quite how it’s going to work. But he doesn’t disabuse her of that thought, and heads out to meet the manager of the Russell’s trust, Erin Kelly, who appears to be capable enough, and when DeMarco asks her about a few things, has ready answers for how to handle them. He leaves, fairly confident that other than the girl’s ideas about where she will live, everything is fine.

Spoilers ahead….skip to SPOILERS END for the summary.


On his return to the Russell’s house to check in again on Cassie, the housekeeper gives him a name: Jerry Feldman. She overheard a conversation the Russells were having that indicated all may not have been well with Erin Kelly’s management of the trust, and that a CPA named Jerry Feldman was auditing the books for it. DeMarco heads out to find Feldman.

Feldman, unfortunately, has met his demise during a robbery of a convenience store, which seems rather coincidental, and DeMarco digs around, only to find that Erin Kelly is the niece of Mike Kelly, a notorious mobster in Boston. This raises the question for him – although not for us, having already received scenes between Mike and Erin that detail how angry she is that Cassie was not also killed in the plane crash and that she wants someone else killed as well – that perhaps Erin is not the chipper go-getter she appears to be.

DeMarco finds out that Feldman has been killed and believes Cassie may also be in danger, so he takes her up to a property owned by the Russells – a cabin in the woods, with few neighbors, and what neighbors there are a good bit of distance away. Pat McGuire, Mike Kelly’s top guy, has followed them there and attempts to kill Cassie. He is interrupted by a couple of teenagers (a young man and woman), and flees after shooting the young man and trying to shoot at Cassie as she swims away. One problem: McGuire has left fingerprints on the inflatable raft he used while there.

Now sure that Erin Kelly is a very bad person, DeMarco tells a Boston PD detective about all of it, but of course, jurisdictional problems are a thing. The NTSB, investigating the plane crash, won’t have a findings for awhile, and there are no direct links between any of it that he can prove.

DeMarco learns from Mahoney that there’s someone attempting to blackmail him with what are supposedly Mahoney cheating with a woman. Knowing that Mahoney does cheat on his wife, DeMarco meets with the blackmailer, who, it turns out, is a guy who was fired from his job for excessive absenteeism due to being an alcoholic, but who is now sober but in desperate need of money. He decides he just doesn’t have the heart to be a bad guy, and tells DeMaarco to forget it.

Meanwhile, McGuire, knowing he will be arrested once his prints are lifted, makes Mike promise that if anything happens to him that Mike will take care of McGuire’s elderly mother. Mike by now knows that his niece is in charge of billions of dollars and is considering how much he can wring out of her to keep her secrets – like the fact she came to him to get people killed, which has been captured on tape.

DeMarco realizes that the only solution is to keep the audit going, so it can be shown that Kelly was embezzling. He approaches the other two members of the three person board overseeing the trust (Mahoney is the third), and they agree the audit should proceed. A team shows up at the trust, taking everything and kicking Kelly out.

Before they get things locked down, Kelly accesses the trust funds electronically and transfers out over a hundred million dollars, then transfers those funds into other accounts at other banks, attempting to hide the trail. She then flees to London on her own passport and then to Montenegro under an assumed identity.

DeMarco turns to the investigative firm that had fired the blackmailer, and hires them to find Kelly, on the condition they hire the guy back and have him work on this case. They agree, since he had been one of their top investigators. They track Kelly to Montenegro, and DeMarco and his (now) crew, including the wannabe blackmailer, another operator from the investigative firm, and a disgraced doctor, head there. Mike Kelly also sends a crew there, to grab his niece.

The end is a caper. DeMarco and company put on a show to lure the bad guys into getting arrested, and act out their plan to grab Erin Kelly and hustle her out of the country. Back in the US, Erin Kelly is arrested for financial crimes and McGuire is arrested for attempted murder. Kelly thinks she’s maybe get four or five years, max, and McGuire is prepared to keep his mouth shut to protect Mike Kelly, but after he learns his mother has died while Mike Kelly was supposed to be overseeing her care, thinks Mike murdered her and considers talking. He then talks himself into believing she died of natural causes, given her age, and is prepared again to keep his mouth shut. He is stabbed while in jail, but survives, and tell DeMarco that all the dirt Mike Kelly has collected over the years on powerful people, and the tape with Erin Kelly saying she wanted people dead, is in a safe on a property he owns. Everyone is toast at this point except McGuire.

The book ends with Mahoney’s wife spending time with Cassie, and telling DeMarco Cassie will live with her in the Mahoney’s home in Boston, and the housekeeper and her husband will move with them. DeMarco is then sent off to Minnesota to deal with another matter.

SPOILERS END

Overall, it’s a good, fast read, and fun, too, if you enjoy stories about fixers that involve capers. While this is a book deep into the series character DeMarco, it can be read as a standalone, as enough information is given on DeMarco to know who he is and what he does. There’s only one infodump, and it’s a bit of a required one, to describe the no-show job Mahoney had created to stash DeMarco so he would be around to do whatever things Mahoney needed him to do.

I liked this quite a bit and will be going back to the beginning to read more about Joe DeMarco.

A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for the advance copy.

Review: One Minute Out (Gray Man #9)

Court Gentry (aka the Gray Man) is in Croatia to snipe a war criminal. As he watches the old man through his scope, though, he decides that far away through a scope just won’t do, and this man needs an up close and personal visit. Despite the presence of a small personal army and a couple of dogs guarding the war criminal, Gentry makes his way into the house only to find the old man not in his bed. Following sounds he hears, he makes his way into a basement and finds over twenty women and girls chained to the walls there. One woman, who was loose because the old man was about to bring her upstairs and assault her, runs out of the house (despite the presence of that small army and a couple of dogs). Gentry kills the old man and then wants to free the women, but one of their number tells him to leave, as he can’t protect all of them, and they will be punished worse if they leave and are recaptured.

Gentry reluctantly leaves them but vows to find them again and free them, and also to bust the human sex trafficking ring he has stumbled across.

The story moves from Croatia to Italy to the US, as Gentry follows the pipeline of women moved from country to country. Along the way, he picks up an ally – one of the womens’ sister, who works in financial fraud for EUROPOL – and she heads off on a side trek to engage the services of a hacker. after telling Gentry that not only is there a sex trafficking ring, there’s an ocean of bad money being laundered in the process. Meanwhile, Gentry keeps dogging the pipeline, killing quite a number of people in his path and getting beat up at various locales.

SPOILERS FROM HERE

The evidence continues to pile up, and when it points to a US-based businessman and movie exec as the ringleader, Gentry calls his office – the CIA – and asks for help. When it’s denied for reasons he isn’t told, he requests help from another, more personal source: a bad guy in Italy, where the women will be sold at auction. The bigshot US businessman will also be in attendance at this particular stop even though his head of security advises him against it, and Gentry wants to get to him somehow, and kill him. On the evening of the auction, Gentry spots members of a special ops team, realizes they’re hunting him, and eventually there’s a big firefight, with the bad guys hoping on a private plane with two women marked for “special handling” – that is, to serve as sex slaves for he crooked businessman.

Gentry makes his way back to the States via a pretty humorous (considering the circumstances) method, and gets to California. Based on information provided by the EUROPOL analyst, he makes his way to the bigshot’s house. He realizes he can’t take the entire compound by himself, so enlists the help of some old operators (and I mean older in ago, as in, this sort of thing is a young person’s game). After killing some more bad guys, and talking the bigshot’s personal security out of protecting the bigshot, Gentry has come face to face with the bad guy – but he promised the CIA he wouldn’t kill the guy, because the guy is an asset to the CIA, providing information on the flow of money and arms around the world. Since Gentry can’t kill the bad guy, he shoots the bad guy right in the crotch, blowing his junk off. I guess that means no more sexytimes for him, assaulting or otherwise, although the way medicine is these days, and the fact that he’s a billionaire, it could be entirely possible bad guy could get his nether regions redone and go right back to his evil ways. On the other hand, it’s made clear in the last few chapters that the gad guy needs ED drugs and coke in order to be able to perform, so maybe not.

Gentry then walks away from the house, despite the LAPD showing up in huge numbers. He climbs into a van holding some CIA dudes, and they drive off into the sunset.

END SPOILERS

The end of the book evokes The Shawshank Redemption (or, for the pedants, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”) with a litany of “hopes”. This book really does seem to be one of the more adaptable ones of the series for the big screen, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it adapted into a screenplay and made into a movie starring some actor everyone will either love or hate, with the hate side pointing out all the ways X could not possibly be the Gray Man.

Overall, if you like the Gray Man series, you’ll like this book. I do, and I did.

Four solid stars out of five.