Rand, Ayn

Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead

These should probably be on the classics page! College reading…

Rankin, Ian

cvr-hanging_gardenThe Hanging Garden
U.S. Edition: Minotaur Books Paperback
U.K. Edition: Orion Paperback Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk

I have read comments by people who swear that Ian Rankin is the best author in his genre. Based upon the numerous entries in a wide field, I have trouble making distinctions such as best; however, after reading this book I can agree that Rankin is among them.

In this complex and engaging book, Edinburgh police detective John Rebus tackles the problems of organized crime. His relationship with one of the players, who happens to be in jail, may complicate matters when it seems people on the outside are trying to usurp his power. When a young Bosnian woman who speaks no English turns up as a prostitute working for one of them, Tommy Telford, he’s drawn to try to help her; the woman, Candice, resembles his daughter, who was hit by a car and lies in the hospital unconscious. Rebus worries this may have been done by the group he’s investigating. Meanwhile, he’s also looking into whether a local man was formerly a Nazi criminal.

This is one of many Rankin books which promise to deliver more good reading for quite awhile! Reviewed 2-1-00

For more information about Ian Rankin and his books, see the following sites:

Author’s Pages


Also by this author…

Reed, Barry

The Indictment
The Verdict
Also on video: The Verdict

Also by this author…

Reed, Mary, and Eric Mayer

Hardcover, Poisoned Pen Press
Available from Amazon.co.uk

It was great fun to read this mystery set in Constantinople during the time of the Byzantine Empire. The book’s glossary provided some definitions and background material which was very helpful. I really liked the characters, and the good writing made it a page-turner.

John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain, tries to find out who killed his friend Leukos. Just prior, a mysterious stranger arrived in town. He is later found to be a knight from King Arthur’s Court seeking an audience with the Emperor in his search for the Holy Grail. He was also looking for Leukos before he was killed. Later, others die mysteriously very close to where Leukos was found. It also turns out that people in the Emperor’s Christian court have been secretly consulting a soothsayer who reads the future in chicken entrails, the same one Leukos had an appointment with on the day he was killed. Before the investigation is complete, John is asked to stop poking around, which further intrigues him. John suspects everyone and, in the process of his investigation, reveals some things about his past.

This book follows a number of short stories featuring John the Eunuch, and the authors hope to follow up with more novels. I hope you’ll buy a copy, and/or ask your librarian if they can get it! You can find out more about the books, stories, and authors at their site.

Now out!! Released January 2001, in hardback: Two for Joy

Reeves-Stevens, Judith & Garfield

U.S. Edition: Pocket Books Paperback

A meeting is planned at the Pentagon, the symbol of the U.S. military-industrial complex, to celebrate the entrance of Russia into NATO. Symbolic of the end of the Cold War, this event is still controversial. Underlying this public declaration of a wary friendship is ongoing research into ever more expensive and powerful defense weaponry. A newly developed space-based weapon, “Quicksilver”, has a destructive force more powerful than anticipated during its research and development phase. While being tested, it takes testers by surprise by not just disabling but completely decimating its target.

Despite efforts at keeping the weapon a secret, a terrorist group finds out about it and seizes control of it via the takeover of the Pentagon during the NATO meeting. What follows is a gripping story of the efforts to release hostages taken by the terrorists and return the Pentagon to control of its tenants.

I often find book jacket descriptions to be poor representations of what I thought of a particular book but on this one, the quote from “Publishers Weekly” is particularly apt: “…warp-speed technothriller with the most engaging underdog protagonists since Jurassic Park…” Here, a Naval Academy trainee, a Pentagon consultant, and an Air Force General in charge of the Quicksilver project are all trapped inside the Pentagon during the seige and are on their own in their efforts to stop the terrorists from unleashing the destructive force of Quicksilver on their countrymen.

Very well-written and fun to read, this thriller does not get bogged down in technical descriptions; it maintains an even pace throughout. Alongside the action, interesting information regarding the construction and history of the Pentagon is revealed. The characters are surprisingly well-developed.

Like Vince Flynn’s Transfer of Power, this book has elements of the movie “Die Hard” and of Tom Clancy’s books.

I read the paperback version of this book, which was just released. There is also a harcover edition available.

Also by this author…

Reich, Christopher

Numbered Account.
Also by this author…

Reichs, Kathy

Deja Dead.
As in Patricia Cornwell’s novels, the main character, Temperance Brennan, is a medical examiner. In this novel, she investigates what she believes to be serial killing after this possibility has been dismissed by police.
Also by this author…

Rendell, Ruth

cvr-sight_for_sore_eyesA Sight for Sore Eyes
Psychological Thriller
U.S. Edition: Crown Pub Hardcover
U.K. Edition: Arrow Paperback Click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk

With a somewhat P.D. Jamesian voice, Rendell spins a tale of a random series of events and circumstances that coalesce into a truly spine-chilling narrative a reader will not easily forget. Each character set is introduced in its own world and the happenstance of their connections is plausibly laid out.

A young girl witnesses her mother’s murderer, after which she gains a stepmother who makes it her mission to protect the child from possible repercussions, such as the murderer seeking her out to eliminate the possibility of her testifying against him. As she grows up to be a beautiful young lady, the protection becomes a spider’s web of social oppression.

A male child is born to uneducated, working-class parents who, other than providing food and shelter, give him nothing more than the freedom to make his own way from a very early age. He makes his first and only friend in a neighbor, a fine furniture maker who teaches him the craft and an appreciation for fine art, which he pursues at the college level. Unfortunately, no one has taught him an appreciation for much else.

A woman’s portrait is captured in a famous painting, preserved forever on canvas as a young beauty. One might say it was her finest moment.

When their paths cross, invisible sparks fly and you, the reader, will be turning pages to find out what catches fire.

Intricately plotted and finely detailed, this book gets my top rating. If her other books are as good as this one, I’ve got a lot of wonderful reading ahead of me. (Reviewed 2/16/00.)


Bibliography & author information

Val McDermid on Ruth Rendell

Also by this author…

Robinson, Peter

Aftermath: A Novel of Suspense
by Peter Robinson, an Inspector Banks novel.

cvr-in_a_dry_seasonIn a Dry Season
1999 Available from Amazon.co.uk
U.S. Edition: Avon/Eos Paperback
U.K. Edition: Macmillan Hardcover

Can a detective or crime novel be considered great literature?

I’m not well educated on the subject of great literature, but I would imagine that a book would fall into that classification if it retained its value despite the passage of time. I have read a number of classics, such as “Don Quixote” and “The Canterbury Tales”, which I found to have withstood the test of the passage of a great deal of time. It is in this light that I will attempt to show that this book by Peter Robinson may well belong on a list of examples of great literature many years from now.

In order to have enduring value, I believe a book must examine well at least one of the three classic themes in literature. This book does all three. I’d be interested in hearing from more learned readers what they think of this analysis!

Man Against Man

In a crime novel, detective novel, or mystery, the crime is almost always murder. What can greater example be given of the most disastrous results of people in conflict with one another?

No aspect of life for anyone involved in a murder or its investigation remains untouched. Robinson’s book underlines how pettiness can force an officer’s career off the fast track. Here, DCI Banks is assigned an investigation by a politically incompatible boss with whom he’s rumored to have actually come to blows. Banks fears that traps have been set for him to further sink his career when he is sent from London to work with DS Cabbott, the local Detective Sergeant on the case at Thornfield Reservoir, whose short career has also been derailed placing her, a sharp up-and-comer, in a backwater jurisdiction.

These sub-themes of rage, jealousy, and suspicion, are timeless and have stood time’s test in literature in many settings and eras. Substitute horse for the car, a warrior for the cop, a madman for the madman, and you have the basic ingredients from great classic tales.

Man Against Nature

While this theme is often viewed in terms of a heroic struggle against the elements, or a battle of will against an ostensibly insurmountable goal such as reaching the South Pole via dogsled or breaking the four-minute mile, this theme can also be viewed in a different way. In attempts to solve a mystery, the elements of time and nature conspire against the most eager and well-equipped detective by removing or altering evidence. Blood washes away in the rain. Contaminants blow into the scene of the crime. The flesh of an undiscovered victim becomes indistinguishable from the earth in an unmarked grave.

Such is the case here when a gravesite is discovered under a reservoir which has emptied because of evaporation during a long, hot spell. At first, there is a matter of verification. Are the discovered bones human? If so, how did they come to rest in what was, during WWII, a living village called Hobb’s End? Specifically, why were they in an area where people lived and worked as opposed to in a cemetery? Were they put there recently, or do they date from before the village came into existence?

While the text is not overly technical with regard to the forensic details, an interview with a forensic anthropologist outlines well the difficulties the detectives face when attempting to answer these questions. The skill with which they use what little information is available to them in order to advance the investigation is a good example of the determination and cleverness necessary for conquering the difficulties created by Nature.

In contemplation of Nature, one cannot neglect to mention that thing called “Human Nature”, which arises in part from perception and its differences from reality (whatever that may be!) The way in which the author delivers the facts of the case creates an uncertainty which maintains the suspense throughout the book. An important facet of Human Nature is the way in which people are guided by instincts and these are points upon which the story often turns.

Man Against Himself

It is in this area that the best part of character development gets done. While actions may speak louder than words, a novel would hardly succeed if it limited itself to a set of what were basically stage directions.

Through the author’s words, we see Banks as a man who is a little resigned to his fate at the hands of others and accepting of his own part in the way things have worked out. He is also revealed through his thoughts on the matter of his son’s pursuit of a “career” with a band, and his ruminations on the fact that his son has grown up and become his own person. He struggles with the biases he may have displayed during interactions with his son which may have harmed the relationship.

One of the suspects believes she has knowledge that is important to the investigation and struggles to come to grips with a course of action besides the out-and-out lying she is using to avoid facing what she thinks is the truth. Readers are teased by the author’s interweaving of her written recollections with the story of the investigation.

The reference points provided by the author’s attention to the development of the characters provide a strong frame for the way the story plays out. In the hands of this author, the characters come alive in all the predictability and unpredictability of humans. They think they agree with you (or they don’t), they argue with themselves and others. They do things which, when seen by others, have one meaning; when examined by themselves, they have others.

The characterizations show the struggles of men to not only exist but to live with themselves, to choose life and love and happiness, or their opposites, and to deal with hopes as well as fears. The breadth and depth of character development here go a long way towards convincing me that this book is the great literature of lasting value.

So, But What of the Plot?

Ingenious, I say! Original. Unsettling. Complex. This is the story of a murder which occurred about 50 years prior to the investigation in a small, abandoned village which had been underwater for most of that time. The story is developed using a kind of a fugue method, with the story jumping between the present and the past. This brings to life the character of the victim, about whom the reader might not otherwise develop much interest. The conclusion is satisfying and, while surprising, fits well with the main body of the narrative.


As I read over my efforts here to do a bit more analysis in a book review, it occurs to me that it may sound kind of generic. My point here is that for readers interested in spending quality time with great literature, there is no good reason to disdain the genre of crime and detective fiction. This book is a great example of one such book that should not be missed.

Also by this author.

Rogak, Lisa

cvr-pretzelPretzel Logic
Paperback, Williams Hill Publishing Available from Amazon.co.uk

“But love is such a mystery,
I cannot find it out;
For when I think I’m best resolv’d,
I then am most in doubt.”

Sir John Suckling (1609-1642)
from “A Poem with the Answer”

I couldn’t put this book down. For anyone who has ever said the words, “I thought I knew him (or her),” this tale of romance gone awry will ring true. The twist is in the reason for the fairy tale’s end. It’s not previously unknown sloppy habits, workaholism, or even a flirtation or infidelity, in the classical sense, that rocks the foundation of the marriage which started out made in heaven. The beginning of the end is one partner’s sneaking suspicion that he may just prefer men to women.

Emily finds very little in the way of a support network for “straight spouses” while her husband, Michael, enjoys plenty of support for the difficult choices he’s contemplating from members of the gay community. The ups and downs experienced by Emily as her hopes and disappointments are revealed take the reader on a journey full of sympathetic laughter and tears.

While this book may seem to be a story for people who have personal knowledge or experience of the core issue, the book as a whole provides a good look into some of the questions about modern marriage between two independent, self-sufficient adults, and what two people who still love each other can go through when facing possibly insurmountable difficulties.

Whatever happens, you will fall in love with Emily, the narrator, as well as some of the other characters. They seem so real. They could be the person next door. They could be you! Cheers to the author for writing such a memorable and well-crafted book.

Rose, M. J.

In Fidelity

Published 2001
Pocket Books Paperback
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Some romance, some sex, and lots of suspense keep this book going from start to finish. As she did in “Lip Service,” author M.J. Rose shows a lot of insight through the thoughts and actions of her main character.

Psychologist Jordan Sloan has been separated from her husband Robert for five years. They live in separate parts of the same house with their 17-year-old daughter Lilly. Jordan has decided it’s time to finalize the separation by getting divorce papers but is hesitant to do so once circumstances start to bring her face to face with her husband more frequently, and one of her therapy client’s erotic disclosures crack open Jordan’s battened-down desires. Lilly, the center of her life, is in the process of breaking away from the family and is involved in a pretty serious relationship.

What’s making Jordan feel even more vulnerable is the fact that the man who killed her father was just released from prison and she’s lost a measure of the feeling of safety she had when she knew he was locked up.

The suspense in the book is largely related to what Jordan will do–will she crumble from the strain or cope in some way? And what of the other characters?

This novel is hard to classify as it contains elements of a psychological thriller and a romance. It’s very well done, though, and if you like good characterizations, you’ll probably enjoy this one. My only caveat would be that some might be uncomfortable with the more erotic sections, which are a bit more explicit and lengthier than would ordinarily be found in a thriller. Those who are familiar with Rose’s first book will know what I mean!

Lip Service

Published 1999
Pocket Books Paperback
Buy from Amazon.com
Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Here is a great book that will be missed by many because of the way it is advertised. Described by the publisher as an “erotic thriller,” it’s something I would probably never have read because I’m the type of reader who often skips over gratuitous “love” scenes in books which, if overdone, may cause me to put a book down without finishing it.

The amazing publishing history of this book, however, gives some indication of its value. When the manuscript was rejected by several publishers, the author published it herself and marketed it online. Her success led to bids from several publishers before it was released by Pocket Books in August of 1999. Still, the term “erotic thriller” makes it sound like a romance novel, a genre I tend to avoid.

What I found when I read the book was good writing about a character I really liked: Julia Sterling, a woman in her late thirties who finds herself dissatisfied with her life as the wife of a psychiatrist who places his career over their marriage. The excitement begins when she decides to take a step towards independence by agreeing to write a book about another psychiatrist who offers sex therapy via telephone. This launches her into a realm of self-discovery and danger she had never anticipated when a contact made during her “research” leads her to cooperate with police in an attempt to capture a child molester. (Part of her research ends up being actual work as a phone sex therapist, something she had not foreseen when taking on the project.)

This book will make people feel uncomfortable. The focus of the narrative on the sex is just one part of the equation. Major life changes are not comfortable and the author brings this to life with her words as Julia explores her thoughts about her sexuality at the same time she considers other facets of her life, including the people in it. She’s waking up after years spent sublimating her own identity to the role of wife. By gaining perspective, she’s learning to see the people in her life more realistically and what she sees is not necessarily pretty.

While the publishers do have good reason to call this an erotic thriller, I’d call it a psychological thriller with some explicit sexual content. I recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds the least bit interesting. You won’t be disappointed.

A trade paperback of this book was just released July 11, 2000.

This review revised 7-21-00

Rozan, S. J.

St. Martins Paperback
Available from Amazon.co.uk

I really enjoyed this book. My local librarian pointed out this author from a list she obtained indicating “If you like this…then try this” when she did a search on writers like Robert Crais. This is one of the author’s first featuring detectives Bill Smith and Lydia Chin.

Investigation of the death of a guard at a home for the elderly uncovers corruption, blackmail, and protection scams by a local gang. Reviewed 12-13-99.

Also by this author…