June 2006 Same Vein


Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith
Pan Macmillan

On April 26th, 1986 the number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded after a planned test shutdown went seriously wrong. The subsequent release of radioactive material is estimated to have reached levels exceeding 40 times the amount of radioactivity released by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The short and long term effects of this explosion, particularly on the Republics of Belarus and Ukraine has been devastating.

The dark world that Martin Cruz Smith portrays in Wolves Eat Dogs tracks remarkably well with documented accounts from Byelorussians and Ukrainians about life after Chernobyl. Smith made numerous trips to the exclusion zone and his investment in time and first-hand research bears fruit. It is into that dark world that fate and police work brings Inspector Arkday Renko.

Smith's previous Renko novels have all been best sellers, and rightly so.

Renko's erratic career path as a police inspector has seen him survive, barely, the apparatchiks of the Soviet regime (Gorky Park). He has survived its imminent demise (Polar Star) and the emergence of bloody cowboy capitalism (Red Square). Now, in Wolves Eat Dogs, Renko must operate in a Russia dominated by an elite group of billionaire oligarchs.

The primary setting of Wolves Eats Dogs is the 30-kilometer evacuation (or exclusion) zone in the northern Ukraine, just south of Ukraine's border with Belarus, surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A billionaire oligarch, Pasha Ivanov, is found dead outside his high-rise Moscow flat. All evidence leads to the conclusion that Ivanov has taken his own life by jumping from his penthouse apartment. Renko, however, is not so sure and decides to conduct his investigation despite the clear displeasure shown up and down the police ladder and amongst the surviving owners of Ivanov's company.

In this, Renko's stubborn, principled independence has not changed at all since he first came to view in Gorky Park. When a second related death occurs in the 30-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl, Renko's superiors are pleased to pack him off to investigate the death in the Ukraine. The majority of the action takes place in the exclusion zone. Renko plods on despite himself and despite attempts by virtually everyone to leave things alone.

Wolves Eat Dogs sees Martin Cruz Smith at his finest. Smith does not devote any time to fleshing out the personal side of Renko. However, the similarity between the inner-life of Renko and the stark, despairing, world of the exclusion zone is unmistakable. It is at once a moving and tragic reflection of the life lived by Arkady Renko. Smith's portrayal of Renko, life in the exclusion zone, and his development of the plot from start to finish is first rate.

Highly recommended thriller from one of today's best writers.

Cold Kill by Stephen Leather

Hodder Headline

Reflecting the fact that crime is now a global industry, with major criminals hopping easily from continent to continent, this latest outing for Leather's resourceful undercover operative Dan 'Spider' Shepherd catapults him into a new role. And new danger.

Asylum seekers have been bringing fake euros into the UK in a scam organised by the Albanian Mafia, while Bangladeshi moneychangers handle the London logistics. At the same time, terrorist organisations are busily recruiting men and women who are able to move easily between Western countries without drawing any attention to themselves. And these new recruits are, of course, being handed lethal assignments that it's up to people like Dan to stop.

Going undercover, he makes contact with a major Albanian criminal in France, and discovers that (for the right money) British passports are easily obtainable. Soon, Dan is on the trail of a suspected terrorist, and many lives will be at stake unless he can bring a major international conspiracy to a halt. Is Dan able to succeed? Or has he finally met his match?

Stephen Leather has long had the measure of fast moving thrillers, and everything (including the pulse-pounding climax aboard a Eurostar train) is orchestrated with maximum finesse. For those of us who like to tackle thrillers that seem to be genuinely engaged with the modern world, he is essential reading. Buy it!

Mistress of the Dark by Sephera Giron

Leisure Books

Welcome to the diary of a twisted young woman named Abigail Barnum.

Abigail moves from a smalltown place into the bustling world of New York city to lose herself and make friends with the strippers and drag queens of the night. She works as a waitress in a tourist bar that hides a back room that's definitely for adults only.

She desperately wants to escape who she really is, and her past, but she can't. Because she'd deadly, and also just a little more than slightly insane.

Voices and hallucinations draw her deeper into her own world, a world of obsession and pain, seduction and murder. Few know of the real Abigail, but one woman knows her grisly secret. As Abigail descends into madness, can anyone she touches ever hope to be safe?

Be warned, this is not a light read, it is a dark look at human nature and relationships. And because of that, it's a refreshing read that just can't be put down. It won't be for everyone. It is very graphic and disturbing in many parts, thoughtful, dark and insightful in other parts, and will stay with you long after you have finished reading.

Just how we like 'em. Buy it.

Derailed by James Siegel

Penguin Books

Ad executive Charlie Shine takes the Long Island Railroad to work every day.

One day he meets a leggy Lucinda on the train through a mix-up with his train ticket. The two start-up a conversation and pretty soon are meeting each other on the train. Lucinda tells Charlie she is in an unhappy marriage and Charlie who is married himself debates having an affair with her. Of course the temptation is too great for him so they schedule a daytime tryst in a downtown, shaddy hotel.

At the end of their activity, they are surprised by a mugger who robs Charlie and rapes Lucinda. Both not wanting their spouses to find out, they decide to say nothing to the police.

The mugger (Mr. Vasquez), aware that they will take no action against them, starts to blackmail Charlie to get whatever additional wealth that he has.
And there starts a long ride of death, destruction and intrigue as Charlie starts to learn things aren't exactly as they seem.

Derailed is an excellent novel, reading like a modern-day STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, but with a few more twists you won't see coming. If you like non-stop tension laced throughout your thrillers, this one is for you.



Cold Blooded by Robert J. Randisi

Leisure Books

Last seen in Randisi's The Sixth Phase (1999), NYPD Det. Sgt. Dennis McQueen, a cynical veteran whose passion for detective work exceeds his mastery of departmental politics, gets a new partner who's as much a standard type as himself. Det. Bailey Summers labors to survive and advance in a sexist profession while continually fending off those who just want to sleep with her.

When a frozen body is discovered off Coney Island by the local polar bears club, the duo connect the murder with insurance fraud and arson in the person of the dead man's sister, a femme fatale with designs on McQueen.

After other frozen corpses turn up, it becomes clear a serial killer is on the loose. It's up to McQueen and Summers to find the killer before he kills again.

Another fast and frantic story from Randisi and well worth the read.

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Allen & Unwin

Following on from the success of Connelly's last book, The Closers, the Lincoln Lawyer is set in Los Angeles and follows multiple-divorcee, child-support paying criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller, as he runs his practice out of the back of his ex-gang banger-chauffered Lincoln, rushing from courtroom to courtroom trying to meet his monthly expenses.

No moral crusader or victims' rights dark knight here, Haller is a down to earth, bottom of the pile lawyer who is - in fact - a refreshing change to the usual leads in legal thrillers.

The story begins with the arrival of a so-called "franchise" client - that is, one with deep pockets and complicated case that can result in a huge payday for Haller, something in the six-figures realm.

Louis Roulet is a high-end real estate broker accused of attempted rape and murder, and Haller is shocked and delighted when Roulet insists that Haller defend him. Haller and his investigator, Raul, put together a defense in much the same manner the cops might put together a case. Lots of good procedural details combined with good pacing keep the story going.

However, something niggles at the back of Haller's mind, and as one might expect, he's in for a surprise or two. Meanwhile, he's juggling a person life that includes easing his way back into his ex-wife's good graces, and working to become a better father to their 7-year-old.

Connelly has served up another winner with The Lincoln Lawyer, due mainly to the intimate detail of criminal defense lawyers. Also, the climactic courtroom scenes are virtuoso stuff, brilliant in pacing and tension.

Excellent reading.

The Mask of Atreus by A.J. Hartley

Random House

The Mask of Atreus is one of those rare mystery novels that combines an exciting story line, rich in historical and archaeological detail with a quality of writing which is a joy to read.

The book revolves around Deborah Miller, an Atlanta museum curator, who discovers the body of the proprietor of the museum in a secret room surrounded by a myriad of archaeological Greek artifacts. A central cabinet, however, lies empty and Miller believes this to have contained a Mycenean death mask.

Miller embarks on trips to Greece and Russia in search of answers. She becomes embroiled in a mystery which is far more sinister than she could ever have imagined. Attempts are made on her life as she begins to uncover the awesome truth. Can she reveal the truth to the world before she gets herself killed?

The Mask of Atreus is an easy read with enchanting characters and a sharp writing style. Plus, the plot twists build up the tension and suspense, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages.

A great read.

A Book of Curious Advice
by Ruth Pepper Summers

Capricorn Link

Cigarettes to cure asthma? Crushed strawberries to remove freckles?

Old advice can be peculiar or even downright dangerous, as this eye-opening, enjoyable treasury of misinformation proves. Drawn from such tomes as Ladies' Indispensable Assistant (1852), Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861), and Dr. Chase's Recipes (c. 1884), it offers a sampling of the most alarming remedies, unusual tips, and outdated theories from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries.

The unwise guidance covers everything from curing alcoholism to lacing corsets. Complete with revealing information on the popularity of opium, history of bathing, and nineteenth-century version of the Atkins' diet, A Book of Curious Advice provides a rare and hilarious glimpse into our ancestors' heads and homes.

Fun to read in one sitting, or to flick through at your leisure, this is a terrific tome that will make you wonder how we all survived so long in the first place.

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