Friday, May 3, 2013

Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka

Prophet of Bones is an exciting thriller set in an alternate world where Darwin was discredited and the belief that the earth is only a few thousand years old persists into the 21st century.  This is a fascinating premise and Ted Kosmatka really delivers with his sophomore effort.

In a world where the best science believes the earth to only be a few thousand years old, a discovery that threatens that belief triggers a violent reaction that costs Paul Carlsson an eye and several other people their lives.  Paul manages to smuggle out a genetic sample and some very powerful people want to make sure his discovery never sees the light of day.

Kosmatka does a great job of creating atmosphere.  While the pages move by swiftly, there is a pervading sense of tension and dread that oozes from the book.  Dangerous experiments that mess with the genetic code are truly terrifying in the wrong hands.  By setting the book in a world where Darwin was wrong, Kosmatka effectively highlights not only the threat that new discovery poses to the status quo, but to religion, politics and belief systems.  

Prophet of Bones is not a typical thriller.  The hero is not a bull-in-the-china-shop type.  He is physically imposing, but he is foremost a scientist and a man of conviction.  Paul Carlsson is a very interesting character.  He is layered and driven.  I very much enjoyed Kosmatka’s first book, The Games, but Prophet of Bones is even better.  The characters are more rounded and compelling, the monsters are just as terrifying, and the plotting is solid from beginning to end.  This is a story that will entertain as well as make you think.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

Criminal Enterprise is the second Windermere and Stevens book by Owen Laukkanen, and as good as the first one is (The Professionals), this one is better.  The criminals in Laukkanen’s books are not career criminals or people from disadvantaged backgrounds.  They are mostly unremarkable people, some even affluent, who face a crossroad and head down a path that grows increasingly dangerous and violent.  

The villain in Criminal Enterprise, Carter Tomlin, is an ordinary, affluent middle-age businessman who faced with job loss, turns to robbing banks.  The ease at which each little decision steers him down a path from which it becomes increasingly difficult and eventually impossible to return is both fascinating and frightening.  The idea that someone like this could be your neighbor, your kids’  basketball coach, and even your spouse with you not having the first clue about their secret life is shocking and makes for great drama.

The relationship between FBI agent Windermere and Minnesota State Investigator Stevens presents a likewise fascinating and unique dynamic.  As a team, who are not really partners, they work incredibly well together.  There’s also a quasi-romantic attraction between them that is never acted on and very complex.  

The plot moves forward crisply and at a very fast-pace, aided by short chapters and alternating viewpoints that keep you reading to see what happens next.  Laukkanen is especially gifted at making you feel like you have a ringside seat to watching someone’s life unravel, and even as fortuitous as they may be in evading capture, they are also unable to break free of the downward spiral and the noose that you feel inexorably tightening around their necks.

The action is well-written and thrilling.  Frightening, violent and compelling.  There are a number of possible outcomes that prevent you from seeing exactly how things will play out and this keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way to the end.  If there is a formula to be discerned on the basis of his first two books (ordinary people turned criminals, seemingly mismatched partners who work well together, secondary bad guys racing the cops to get to the main set of criminals), it’s a formula that works well because of the very strong writing.  

If you enjoyed Laukkanen’s first book, you will enjoy this one as well.  If you are new to his work, you can jump in without having to have read the first book.  This is an exceptionally well-written thriller and this is an author you will be hearing a lot more from in the future.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.