Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “fbi”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #70: The Innocent by David Baldacci

Baldacci’s latest thriller is a decent recovery from Zero Day, his previous most recent novel and an unexpected bomb, in my opinion (see my earlier review). The Innocent has likeable if unoriginal characters, an exciting if somewhat predictable plot, plenty of gore, a touch of romance, and just enough of a political tinge to keep it interesting but still politically correct.

Baldacci once again centers much of the action in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area he knows so well, and builds his story around a U.S. government assassin who only questions his life and those who deploy him when he is ordered—but refuses–to kill his target, a working mother of two right in the nation’s capitol. She is not the drug cartel boss, terrorist financier, and so forth he usually is sent after, and besides, she has two cute kids. Trained killer Will Robie suddenly discovers he has a soft spot for helpless females, babies, and a smart-ass teenage girl he encounters running for her life. Robie and the girl end up going on the run together, trying to figure out who killed her parents and is after her, and who ordered him to do a bad hit and then tried to kill him.

At first, their two stories appear to be unrelated, but little by little, the clues, the victims, and the story lines cross, until it becomes evident that there is a huge conspiracy afoot, and the players are very high up inside U.S. intelligence, defense and law enforcement. The big disappointment to me is that, while Baldacci’s plot gave him ample ammunition for going after real corruption inside the U.S. political machine, something he has not shied away from in his earlier novels, he instead chose a more clichéd approach in The Innocent. And somehow, I managed to guess rather early in the plot who the ultimate baddie was, and that was a bit of a disappointment for me.

Nonetheless, as far as Baldacci thrillers go, this one had all the right stuff and I’ll confess that I mostly enjoyed it, despite the nagging feeling that I had already read the story–or seen the movie—before.

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Quorren #CBR4 Review #40 All the Pretty Girls by J. T. Ellison

As far as mass market paperback crime thrillers go, All the Pretty Girls probably ranks above average.  (How’s that for a backhanded compliment?)  It’s one of those quintessential summer reads – doesn’t require too many brain cells, it’s intense enough to keep your interest and it’s a relatively quick read.  Take it out to the pool with you, especially if you’re a fan of James Patterson’s Alex Cross series.

All the Pretty Girls is the first novel for Ellison’s reoccurring character, Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson.  Jackson is a young (I have no idea how someone her age makes lieutenant of such an important unit, but it’s fiction) female who sees the world in black and white.  She’s the typical cop archetype.  Her secret lover is John Badlwin, a profiler for the FBI.  When a body of a missing southern girl tuns up in Nashville, missing her hands, Baldwin and Jackson team up outside of the bedroom to catch a killer.  The story is a tad predictable, but it’s gripping enough that you’ll overlook it.

The main flaw of the book is that the author crammed in too many subplots.  First was the serial rapist that rapes the lead detective on his case.  Second was an up and coming gang lord.  I can see where Ellison wanted to have enough of reason for his publishers to give him book deal for a second book, but it was a bit too much info for the readers and there wasn’t enough space to give those two subplots the proper treatment.

I would’ve ranked the book higher, but in one scene, two officers hold down a suspect while Jackson decks him hard enough to knock him unconscious.  Admittedly, he punched her first.  However, the whole scene deviated from Jackson’s character; she’s a paragon of moral virtue, yet she’ll participate in police brutality?  I’m willing to cut Ellison’s a bit of slack, though, I believe this is her first novel.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #50: The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Poet is one of Connelly’s most complex and intriguing novels. Although it has the genre’s usual share of violence and the standard romantic tease, it is a multi-layered mystery with not one, but two surprise twists at the end. The characters are three-dimensional and fleshed-out with Connelly’s characteristic detailing to make them flawed and endearing, but mostly, believable.

In The Poet, we are introduced to a new Connelly hero. Denver journalist Jack McEvoy is a big fish in a little pond; he covers homicides for the Rocky Mountain News and, as he puts it, “Death is my beat.” But his life is flat, with no journalistic (or romantic) prospects in sight. His twin brother, homicide detective Sean McEvoy had been depressed over his inability to solve a particularly nasty murder and at the beginning of the novel, is discovered in his locked car by a frozen lake,with a bullet in the head and an especially poetic “note” scrawled into the frost on his windshield. Everyone–even Sean’s wife–is convinced it was suicide, until Jack decides he can’t ignore the buzz of doubt and begins to do what he does best—research. Turns out there have been a string of detective “depression suicides” across the country and over the years, all of them linked to particularly horrific unsolved murders—most of them child victims–and each with a suicide “note” taken verbatim from an Edgar Allan Poe story or poem. His brother’s murder is but the latest. With Jack’s hard-won evidence, the cases are reopened and Jack manages to force his way onto the special FBI team—including the attractive profiler Rachel Walling and her hostile ex-husband—which is pursuing “The Poet,” as this new serial killer is now dubbed.

Connelly uses the convention of giving us our child killer right from the get-go, and a particularly chilling psycho he is as he shops for child victims the way the rest of us shop for groceries. We are also introduced to the world this killer inhabits inside the internet, the chat rooms he shares along with other killers, pornographers, pedophiles, and worse. We scratch our heads at the ease with which his type manipulates the legal system, and we watch breathlessly as the FBI teases out the clues with McEvoy’s help, and finally closes in. And when it does, all assumptions get tossed out. Connelly ratchets up the tension by giving us new targets, and the plot thickens. The end is a cliffhanger, both for McEvoy and for the reader. But the exciting news is that Connelly has provided us a sequel in The Narrows. Get thee to a library, quick!

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #39: Gideon’s Corpse by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I had to read the sequel to Gideon’s Sword, as much to see whether Preston and Child had improved the new series with this, their second novel in the Gideon sequence, as to find out whether the hero was indeed facing a terminal disease or whether that was just a lie constructed by a behind-the scenes semi-private agency to manipulate him into becoming their super-agent against his will. I found out that the authors had somehow managed to produce another fun read, whose plot was however just as improbable and, unfortunately, just as poorly constructed as the first novel, and that Gideon’s illness is … well, I’ll leave that revelation to the die-hard Preston and Child fans who will read this book no matter what.

In this novel, Gideon is dragged into an apparent hostage situation, where a former colleague from the Los Alamos nuclear lab where Gideon works is holding a family at gunpoint. The guy eventually dies in a hail of bullets, but is discovered to be highly-radioactive. The powers-that-be conclude that the guy, a recently-converted Muslim, had in fact been building a nuclear bomb for Islamic jihadists, and panic begins to spread across the country and, more importantly, across Washington, as every government enforcement agency is brought in to establish protection/evacuation scenarios for potential targets ranging from the White House to the Hoover Dam. The real terrorist scenario is quite different, however, and the bad guys pulling the strings have, in fact, wrapped themselves in the American flag. It falls to Gideon and a slightly rogue FBI agent to save the day.

As plots go, this one seems interesting enough – until one gets into the details of the story and that’s where things go badly off the rails. Gideon jumps around like the ball in a pin-ball machine, careening from city to city and situation to situation, surviving repeated death-traps with skills that even James Bond couldn’t claim, having romantic interludes and making enemies, and yet somehow saving the day against impossible—I repeat, impossible!—odds.  Worst of all is the ending, a schlock anti-climax unworthy of these authors.

Immediately after reading Gideon’s Corpse, I read Preston & Child’s Cold Vengeance (review to follow), the latest in their Pendergast series, and was struck by the dramatic difference in quality between the two. While I won’t go so far as one reviewer, who concluded that the Gideon series had actually been written by one of the author’s wannabe-writer offspring, I do think that Preston and Child may have been lured by Hollywood into producing a series of novels designed for film—which would go far to explain the ultimate absurdity of the plots, the implausibility of the characters, and the generally slapdash writing.  Now that I think of it, the Pendergast novels contain equally wild plots, but somehow the characters –even the superhuman hero of the series—are more appealing and the writing much richer and more compelling. Go figure!

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