Saturday, 6 June 2020

The Spy / Thriller Genre Continued

Demonstrators in front of US Embassy in Ottawa (courtesy Global news)
It's been an interesting, emotional (to put it mildly) week. There have been protests around the US (every state) and the world in support George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. My daughter attended the one held in Ottawa. They continue today. From reports, there are great crowds in Washington, D.C. today. (and everywhere).


This morning I've relaxed with Jo. I watched the 2nd episode (finally) of DEVS, an interesting Sci-Fi - type series on FX. I'm not too sure what's going on yet, but the visuals are fantastic and Sonoya Mizuno is a wonderful, talented actress. The rest of the cast is also great. I will try to finish Season 1 in the next week.

I also was able to make solid progress on three of the five books I'm working on. Brother Odd is a nicely flowing story by Dean Koontz. I find his work generally hit or miss but I've enjoyed the Odd Thomas series so far. Thomas is such a likable character. I'm also enjoying my further exploration of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. Such intelligent writing and so far interesting stories; Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter and Waugh's Unconditional Surrender.

Now to continue my look at the Spy / Thriller genre

The Spy / Thriller Genre - David Baldacci

David Baldacci
David Baldacci - King & Maxwell. Baldacci is a prolific writer of thrillers. He was born in Richmond, Va. in 1960. He is much like James Patterson in that he has written many, many series. I am focused on his King & Maxwell thriller series. I first became aware of it when Jo and I enjoyed the TV series based on the books, starring Jon Tenney as Sean King and Rebecca Romijn as Michelle Maxwell. The series follows two ex - Secret Service agents who partner up and get involved in action-packed thrillers with espionage overtones. There are six books in this series and I've read the first two so far.

a. Split Second (2003).

"This is the first King and Maxwell mystery/ thriller, the story where Michelle Maxwell, a Secret Service agent, whose charge, a presidential candidate, is kidnapped from under her nose, meets Sean King a former Secret Service agent, whose candidate was assassinated while under his protection.

Both cases seem to be related. It's an action-filled thriller, with many deaths and explosions. King is now a lawyer, who finds his relatively sedate new life turned upside down. There are many suspects in this mystery; although over all, it's probably not that complex. There were some things I found irritating; why, oh why do they always go off by themselves when anybody on their own seems to get killed!! Or just when things get ticklish, someone's cell phone falls off that person's belt and is lost!! But these were relatively minor matters, it was a nice intro to the two intrepid agents. I wonder what the future will hold for them. (3 stars)"

b. Hour Game (2004).

"Baldacci throws everything, including the kitchen sink, at you in this action-packed thriller, the 2nd in the King and Maxwell series. A killer stalks Wrightsburg Virginia, imitating infamous serial killers with each murder. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, two ex-Secret Service agents, working now as Private Detectives in the area are called in to help with the investigation by the local police chief. As well, they are working a separate case for a lawyer, defending a break and entering suspect.

Are the two situations related? Before they get to the crux of solving this case there will be many murders, and almost daily, their lives will be threatened. But they plug on, working to solve the case. It's an easy, exciting read. I wish Maxwell was more than just the physical presence in the partnership, but that's a minor complaint. You have to suspend disbelief somewhat, but that was easy to do. I enjoyed the writing, the pacing and the steady throbbing action. Looking forward to getting into the 3rd book, Simple Genius. (3 stars)"

3. Simple Genius (2007).

"Near Washington, D.C., there are two clandestine institutions: the world's most unusual laboratory and a secret CIA training camp. Drawn to these sites by a murder, ex-Secret Service agent Sean King encounters a dark world of mathematicians, codes, and spies. His search for answers soon leads him to more shocking violence-and an autistic girl with an extraordinary genius.

Now, only by working with his partner, Michelle Maxwell, who is battling her own personal demons, can he catch a killer...and stop a national threat."

4. First Family (2009).

"A daring kidnapping turns a children's birthday party at Camp David, the presidential retreat, into a national security nightmare.

Former Secret Service agents turned private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell don't want to get involved. But years ago Sean saved the First Lady's husband, then a senator, from political disaster. Now the president's wife presses Sean and Michelle into a desperate search to rescue a kidnapped child. With Michelle still battling her own demons, the two are pushed to the limit, with forces aligned on all sides against them-and the line between friend and foe impossible to define...or defend."

5. The Sixth Man (2011).

"Edgar Roy--an alleged serial killer held in a secure, fortress-like Federal Supermax facility-is awaiting trial. He faces almost certain conviction. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are called in by Roy's attorney, Sean's old friend and mentor Ted Bergin, to help work the case. But their investigation is derailed before it begins-- enroute to their first meeting with Bergin, Sean and Michelle find him murdered.
It is now up to them to ask the questions no one seems to want answered: Is Roy a killer? Who murdered Bergin? With help from some surprising allies, they continue to pursue the case. But the more they dig into Roy's past, the more they encounter obstacles, half-truths, dead-ends, false friends, and escalating threats from every direction. Their persistence puts them on a collision course with the highest levels of the government and the darkest corners of power. In a terrifying confrontation that will push Sean and Michelle to their limits, the duo may be permanently parted."

6. King and Maxwell (2013).

"It seems at first like a simple, tragic story. Tyler Wingo, a teenage boy, learns the awful news that his father, a soldier, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Then the extraordinary happens: Tyler receives a communication from his father . . . after his supposed death.

Tyler hires Sean and Michelle to solve the mystery surrounding his father. But their investigation quickly leads to deeper, more troubling questions. Could Tyler's father really still be alive? What was his true mission? Could Tyler be the next target?

Sean and Michelle soon realize that they've stumbled on to something bigger and more treacherous than anyone could have imagined. And as their hunt for the truth leads them relentlessly to the highest levels of power and to uncovering the most clandestine of secrets, Sean and Michelle are determined to help and protect Tyler--though they may pay for it with their lives."

The complete list of Baldacci's works is available at this link.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Stay safe.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A Reading Update and My Ongoing Look at the Spy Genre

Creator: Stephen Maturen | Credit: Getty Images
Copyright: 2020 Getty Images
So much has been going on across the US and the world; dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic especially and for the past week demonstrations worldwide in response to the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers. (My daughter has told me she is planning to attend a solidarity march in Ottawa tomorrow.) Today was Mr. Floyd's funeral in Minneapolis, a very moving tribute to this man.

In some ways I feel silly talking about books but books are my way of getting away from what is going on in the world sometimes. So I will continue with my look at books, while keeping a hopeful eye on the positive effect these demonstrations might have on the US and the rest of the world. Something needs to be done.


OK, this will be a relatively short post I think. I haven't finished any books yet in June but I'm making progress. I'll provide synopses of the 5 books I'm currently reading and I'll continue with my ongoing look at the Spy / Thriller genre. Today I'll take a look at Janice Law.

Currently Reading

1. Unconditional Surrender by Evelyn Waugh (Sword of Honour #3). I've read a few of Waugh's books and have enjoyed his writing style.

"Guy Crouchback has lost his Halberdier idealism. A desk job in London gives him the chance of reconciliation with his former wife. Then, in Yugoslavia, as a liaison officer with the Partisans, he finally becomes aware of the futility of a war he once saw in terms of honour."

2. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz (Odd Thomas #3). This is the 3rd book in Koontz's Odd Thomas horror series. He's got a nice, easy story-telling style and Odd is a very interesting character.

"Odd, a charismatic young man with a sense for the otherworldly and the downright strange, is in self-imposed exile. Tragic events have led him from his sun-bleached desert home of Pico Mundo to a monastery in the High Sierra, searching for peace. It’s December and the remote abbey is besieged by icy winds and snow. But even in the silence of the mountains, danger and desperation haunt him still…

As ever, where Odd Thomas goes, strangeness goes too. A white dog named Boo befriends him – as does the ghost of Elvis. And a world-famous physicist is conducting experiments in the catacombs of the abbey. Could this be why Odd can once again see bodachs, shadowy harbingers of violence? They prowl the halls, suggesting horror to come.

But what form will it take? And how will Odd defeat an enemy that eclipses any he has met before?"

3. Stardust by Joseph Kanon. I've read one other of Kanon's historical spy novels. I'm enjoying this book very much. It's set in Hollywood after WWII; I like the references to historical characters and his story-telling. Oh and I like Liesl very much.. 😀

"Hollywood, 1945. Ben Collier has just arrived from war-torn Europe to find his brother has died in mysterious circumstances. Why would a man with a beautiful wife, a successful movie career, and a heroic past choose to kill himself?

Ben enters the uneasy world beneath the glossy shine of the movie business, where politics and the dream factories collide and Communist witch hunts are rendering the biggest star makers vulnerable. Even here, where the devastation of Europe seems no more real than a painted movie set, the war casts long and dangerous shadows. When Ben learns troubling facts about his own family’s past and embarks on a love affair that never should have happened, he is caught in a web of deception that shakes his moral foundation to its core.

Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Stardust flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller evoking both the glory days of the movies and the emergence of a dark strain of American political life."

4. A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell. Like many people I started with Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. But in the past few years I've explored his other works; Burmese Days and Down and Out in Paris and London. I hope to try a couple of his other novels in June. I'm enjoying this one so far.

"Intimidated by her father, the rector of Knype Hill, Dorothy performs her submissive roles of dutiful daughter and bullied housekeeper. Her thoughts are taken up with the costumes she is making for the church school play, by the hopelessness of preaching to the poor and by debts she cannot pay in 1930s Depression England. Suddenly her routine shatters and Dorothy finds herself down and out in London. She is wearing silk stockings, has money in her pocket and cannot remember her name. Orwell leads us through a landscape of unemployment, poverty and hunger, where Dorothy's faith is challenged by a social reality that changes her life."

5. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Soul's Trilogy #1). OK, this is a slow burn. I've been reading for a month or so and I'm about half way through it. I think part of the reason is that it's a 600 page book so I find it easy to put down. Also, she does like to describe what people are wearing, maybe not as much as I think, but it does seem that way at times. I enjoyed the TV series very much and I am enjoying the book too. It seems to be picking up more now, so we'll see how it goes.

"A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it.

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels..."

The Spy / Thriller Novel - Janice Law

Janice Law
Janice Law Trecker is listed as an American mystery novelist and short story writer. I don't have a lot of information about her and I have to say that I've had difficulty finding her books. She is known for her Anna Peters series. I've read one so far and while it might be classified as a mystery, it also dealt with industrial espionage, hence my inclusion of Law in the Spy / Thriller genre. She is also known for her historical series featuring Francis Bacon. I have the first book in that series but will have to let you know what genre it falls under. So let's look at the books I've read and have.

1. Cross-Check (Anna Peters #8).

"Anna Peters, Washington, D.C.-based private investigator, knows little about hockey or Florida when she agrees to help Jurgen "T-Rex" Parkes, star center of the NHL-expansion Orlando Showmen, clear his name of his teammate Alf Rene's murder. She also isn't entirely sure her client is innocent. Anna faces an uphill battle: Parkes asked Rene to meet him the night of the murder, and he has no alibi. The Showmen management is more concerned about the team's tarnished image than seeking the truth, and the media are swarming around Parkes and his family. As Anna digs into the case, she finds Parkes uncooperative, the victim's family and friends secretive and suspicious, and her own safety in jeopardy."

2. Under Orion (Anna Peters #3).

"Under Orion is the first book I've read by author Janice Law. It is the 3rd book in her Anna Peters series. Anna Peters works for New World Oil as a sort of fixer. In this story she journeys to West Germany with one of New World's scientists to try and negotiate a deal with an East German scientist who claims to have developed a process for extracting oil from bilge water.

The mission becomes a dangerous adventure. Are the two East Germans playing the company? Is Martin, the scientist, working against the company? And what is the secret life he seems to be living? The story moves along at a steady pace and bodies start to crop up. Are the East German intelligence services trying to stop the deal? Is it the West Germans? Who are these two brothers?

It's definitely a different kind of thriller, a combination of spy thriller and industrial espionage. There are some scary people and a chase that leads across Germany.

It's not a perfect story but still entertaining. We learn a bit about Anna and her friends and what kind of work she does. Now I've got to find the first two books in the series to see how her character was introduced. Glad I finally had a chance to explore this series. (3 stars)"

3. The Fires of London (Francis Bacon #1).

"A killer takes refuge in the blacked-out streets of wartime London, upending the world of one of Britain’s greatest painters in this chilling and captivating reimagining of the life of Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon walks the streets of World War II London, employed as a warden for the ARP to keep watch for activities that might tip off the Axis powers. Before the war, Bacon had travelled to Berlin and Paris picking up snatches of culture from a succession of middle-aged men charmed by his young face.Known for his flamboyant personal life and expensive taste, Bacon has returned home to live with his former nanny—who’s also his biggest collector—in a cramped bohemian apartment. But one night, death intrudes on his after-hours paradise. When a young man is found dead in the park, his head smashed in, Bacon and the rest of London’s demimonde realize that they have much more to fear than the faraway scream of war."

So there you go, a feel for the books of Janice Law. The complete listing of her books can be found at this link. 
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