Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wolf: A Novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Book description:

In this thrilling novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra—the #1 New York Times bestselling author ofSleepers, Gangster, and Midnight Angels—organized crime goes to war with international terrorism in the name of one man’s quest for revenge.

My name is Vincent Marelli, though most people call me The Wolf. You’ve never met me, and if you’re lucky you never will. But in more ways than you could think of, I own you.

I run the biggest criminal operation in the world. We’re invisible but we’re everywhere. Wherever you go, whatever you do, however it is you spend your money, a piece of it lands in our pockets.

You would think that with that kind of power I would be invincible. You would be wrong. I made a mistake, one that a guy like me can never afford to make. I let my guard down. And because I did, my wife and daughters are gone. Murdered by terrorists with a lethal ax to grind.

That was my mistake.

But it was also theirs.

I wasn’t looking for a war with them. No one in my group was. But they’ve left me with nothing but a desire for revenge—so a war is what they’ll get. The full strength of international organized crime against every known terrorist group working today. Crime versus chaos.

We will protect our interests, and I will protect my son. We won’t get them all, but I will get my revenge, or I will die trying.

They will know my name.

They will feel my wrath.

They will fear The Wolf.

Not since The Godfather has there been a mobster who’s as much fun to root for as Vincent Marelli, aka “The Wolf”.  I heard about a lot of buzz coming out of 2014’s Book Expo America about The Wolf by Lorenzo Carcaterra.  I was thrilled to be able to get my hands on a copy and more thrilled once I started reading it.  This book packs a punch both literally and figuratively.

Carcaterra describes a mob that’s a lot more modern than other versions, from Mario’s Puzzo’s mob to more recent incarnations like the Sopranos.  This is a high-tech version that operates not so much in the shadows, but from behind so many legitimate fronts that they are hidden in plain sight.  What this mob shares with its literary predecessors though is absolute ruthlessness and iron will.

After his wife and daughters are killed in a terrorist attack, “The Wolf” is galvanized to protect his son and take action to lead all of the various world mafia organizations in an attack on international terrorism.  Not just to punish them, but to bring them to their knees.  These organizations are motivated not by any sort of altruistic feelings, but by the long-term threat to their bottom line posed by terrorism.

Vincent Marelli is a character you can both admire and fear.  None of the characters on either side of the conflict are pushovers.  Marelli has the tacit support of most of the world’s criminal organizations, but it’s clear that support is shallow and could disappear if Marelli’s will weakens or results are not forthcoming.  He is going up against terrorists with no scruples about civilian casualties.  The Wolf and his associates have those scruples, but they are otherwise unshackled from the rules of engagement that  sovereign nations and law enforcement alike are bound by.  The result is both a cat and mouse game and a ruthless battle.

The pace never slackens from the beginning to the end of this novel.  Along with his terrorist nemesis, Marelli must battle betrayal within his own organization as well.  This book is well written; there is not a wasted word.  Carcaterra ties up the story nicely, but leaves plenty to be explored in hoped for sequels. If you like crime novels, mob stories, or just a good thoughtful action thriller, pick up this book.  Highly recommended.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

Book description:

Earth is no longer ours. . . .It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun. . . .

Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard is the first volume in The Chronicles of the Invaders.  This is a great introductory volume in what looks to be an exciting series.  The book takes place largely in and around Edinburgh, Scotland.  I found the setting to be a refreshing change for an alien invasion/occupation story.  The countryside and the history of Scotland played as important a role in the story as the characters.

The aliens were nicely detailed, both in their character’s descriptions as well as their internal politics and history.  The authors pick up the story after several years of occupation giving us a look at how earth’s population settles into an uneasy equilibrium with its invaders.  The aliens are highly advanced, but not invincible.  There is an active human resistance but it is largely cautious and just barely coordinated.  

It becomes clear that the Illyri invaders are still hiding secrets, both from the humans and from each other.  The main plot moves forward largely around four young people who become inadvertently entangled in each other’s lives; two Illyri girls and two human boys.  The romantic angle involving these four is my least favorite part of the book, but it is a fairly minor quibble.  The romance is understated, but it seems unnecessary to the plot.  The adult characters are compelling and the book moves forward at a good pace.

Hidden agendas and secrets are everywhere.  It gradually becomes clear that the future of two civilizations is in the balance.  Each answer revealed leads to more questions.  Some of the actions are truly evil and hint at a great danger remaining, perhaps to both races.

Conquest does a good job of telling a complete story in and of itself while simultaneously setting the stage for much more exploration of its universe.  The story leads to an action packed climax and sets the stage for the next entry in the series.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this story goes from here.  Highly recommended.

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

Sentinels of Fire by P. T. Deutermann

Book description: P.T. Deutermann's World War II navy series began with the award-winningPacific Glory, followed by the brilliantly reviewed Ghosts of Bungo Suido. His new novel Sentinels of Fire tells the tale of a lone destroyer, the USS Malloy, part of the Allied invasion forces attacking the island of Okinawa and the Japanese home islands.
By the spring of 1945, the once mighty Japanese fleet has been virtually destroyed, leaving Japan open to invasion. The Japanese react by dispatching hundreds of suicide bombers against the Allied fleet surrounding Okinawa. By mid-May, the Allied fleet is losing a major ship a day to murderous swarms of kamikazes streaming out of Formosa and southern Japan. The radar picket line is the first defense and early warning against these hellish formations, but the Japanese direct special attention to these lone destroyers stationed north and west of Okinawa.
One destroyer, the USS Malloy, faces an even more pressing issue when her Executive Officer Connie Miles begins to realize that the ship's much-admired Captain Pudge Tallmadge is losing his mind under the relentless pressure ofthe attacks. Set against the blazing gun battles created by the last desperate offensive of the Japanese, Executive Officer Miles and the ship's officers grapple with the consequences of losing their skipper's guidance—and perhaps the ship itself and everyone on board.

Sentinels of Fire by P.T. Deutermann is a great fictional World War II story set in the Pacific. It tells the story of a lone destroyer, part of a picket line involved in the battle for Okinawa; the last island before the expected invasion of Japan itself.

Deutermann conveys a realistic and terrifying sense of life on a destroyer, living in constant fear of kamikaze attack and the knowledge that death could be waiting for you every second of every day.

Today we see daily demonstrations of advanced military technology and precision, and the pervasiveness of it on TV and the internet has a certain desensitizing effect. Deutermann convincingly portrays what it is like sitting in the middle of the ocean depending only on your eyes, your ears, and a system of radar that was still in its technological infancy.

The story is told from the perspective of newly arrived Executive Officer Connie Miles. Not only is he transitioning from the relative safety of a large aircraft carrier to a small destroyer on the front lines of the attack, but he soon comes to realize that his Captain, Pudge Tallmedge, has had his nerves frayed to the breaking point and may be losing his mind.

Deutermann vividly takes you to that time and place. You can feel yourself in the middle of the ocean, eyes and ears straining for any warning that an attack is coming your way. Each battle is more thrilling than the last. The desperation of a Japan that knows it is lost but appears willing to die to the last man in an effort to inflict as much damage on the Americans as it can. Both the Japanese and the Americans alter tactics to outwit the other side. Death awaits the loser and living one more day is the prize for the victor. The cat and mouse game makes for an intense, and intensely satisfying story.

Great characters, historically realistic setting and well-written action sequences make for a highly entertaining novel. Recommended for any lover of action and war stories.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this novel.

The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Book description: Welcome to Wayward Pines, the last town. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrived in Wayward Pines, Idaho, three weeks ago. In this town, people are told who to marry, where to live, where to work. Their children are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; even asking questions can get you killed. But Ethan has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

Warning:  This review makes reference to the first two books in the Wayward Pines series, so if you haven’t read them yet, do two things.  First:  READ THEM!  Second, either read the third one or come back and read this review.

The Last Town is the concluding volume in the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch.  Each of the books is a nicely self-contained arc in the trilogy.  The first book, Pines,  drops Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke into the middle of a seemingly idyllic town in the Pacific Northwest.  His memory foggy, he finds the actions of the townspeople, and sometimes their very existence, incongruous.  His refusal to conform leads to him running for his life and eventually uncovering the mystery.

The second book, Wayward, has Burke agree to keep the secret about Wayward Pines and assume the role of sheriff.  While struggling with his own duplicitousness in concealing the truth from the townspeople, he is asked to investigate a murder and to ferret out those unwilling to abide by the towns’ strict rules.  When Burke decides to reveal to everyone the truth behind Wayward Pines, the towns mysterious benefactor decides to turn off the electric fence that is the only thing protecting the town from deadly creatures outside.

The Last Town picks up immediately after the events concluding in the previous book.  Each book is terrifically paced, but The Last Town may be the fastest paced of them all.  Ethan must organize the townspeople as best he can to escape the slaughter that is headed straight for them.  He also must expose the corrupt David Pilcher who conceived of and constructed the town and has demonstrated that he will stop at nothing to protect or destroy his vision.

The characters in this book and series are terrific.  Ethan Burke is a hero with enough faults and internal conflicts to keep you guessing what he might do.  Pilcher is a true megalomaniacal genius that leaves you wondering if he can be defeated or will he self-destruct.  The other supporting characters are equally well-drawn with just enough depth to keep them real.  The mystery of the town and the behavior of everyone living there is riveting.  Unraveling the mystery leads to both surprise and terror.

This is a popcorn thriller with a sci-fi touch and a lot of fun.  I was surprised by the ending of each book and the series as a whole, even though I had plenty of guesses about what was going on all along the way.  The breakneck pace keeps you moving the entire time and draws you deeper and deeper into the story.  The ending is very satisfying.  Do yourself a favor and pick up these books.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book (The final book only).