Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Description:  The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It’s said that when he’s reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.
But he’s not merely a legend.
Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He’s also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets—i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.
Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan’s weakness—his work as The Nowhere Man—to find him and eliminate him. Grabbing the reader from the very first page, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz’s electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.

I’ve been a fan of Gregg Hurwitz since his first book, The Tower came out in 1999. I was drawn in by an outstanding premise and a page-turning thriller. Even though the book had some flaws, it was clear that this was a very talented writer. Fast forward to 2016 and Hurwitz is one of the best writers in the business and Orphan X with its hero, Evan Smoak is one of the best books out this year.

Hurwitz has always been a master of inventive plots and breakneck action. Orphan X has that in spades. Evan Smoak is one of my favorite new characters. An orphan plucked from the streets and trained in isolation as part of a covert organization that may or may not be tied to the U.S. Government. Evan grows up to be one of the organization’s most skilled and deadly operatives. When he learns that the jobs he’s been ordered to do may not be as righteous as he had believed, he takes all the skills he’s acquired and disappears, choosing to use his skills to help those who have nowhere else to turn. He becomes “The Nowhere Man”. When one of those jobs puts him back on the radar of the organization he left behind, it’s going to take everything he’s got just to stay alive.

Orphan X is the best thriller I’ve read this year. Evan Smoak is a larger than life character who is smart, skilled and deadly. The supporting characters are equally fleshed out and Smoak’s opponents are clearly competent and dangerous making for realistically exciting clashes. The book moves along at a breakneck pace that makes you hold your breath as the suspense builds before the action explodes across the pages. Hurwitz works in enough of Smoak’s backstory to let you catch your breath before the next leap forward in the action. Reading this book will make you feel like you are seeing Ian Fleming’s James Bond or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher for the first time.

If you like larger-than-life heroes and plenty of action, pick up Orphan X. You won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to read the next book. Highly recommended.

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

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Description: Nick Mason is out of prison. After five years inside, he has just been given the one thing a man facing 25-to-life never gets, a second chance. But it comes at a terrible price.
Nick Mason is out of prison, but he’s not free. Whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, he must answer it and follow whatever order he is given. It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal kingpin serving a double-life term who still runs an empire from his prison cell.
Forced to commit increasingly more dangerous crimes, hunted by the relentless detective who put him behind bars, and desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything–his family, his sanity, and even his life–to finally break free.

Steve Hamilton has had already had an acclaimed and lengthy career with his successful Alex McKnight series. When I heard he was starting a new series and moving to a new publisher, I knew he believed he had something special on his hands. After reading The Second Life of Nick Mason, I know he was right. This is a great new series with a gritty main character that will live on in your imagination long after you turn the last page in the book.

Nick Mason is not your typical hero. He starts the book five years into a twenty-five year prison sentence. He gets offered a get out of jail card, but it’s not free. He’ll be at the beck and call of Darius Cole, a crime boss running his criminal enterprise from inside prison. Nick doesn’t know what he has to do, only that he has to do it without question. If not for a daughter and an ex-wife he is desperate to connect with, he wouldn’t take the deal.

Nick lived his criminal life with a set of rules he never violated. When a friend begs him to join him for one last score he bends those rules and ends up with a dead friend and a lengthy prison sentence. Now back on the outside, he finds himself in debt to a man who expects him to do things and cross lines he’d never cross on his own.

Nick is not superman but he’s extremely competent and very clever. In debt to a criminal kingpin and pursued by the cop who put him away and won’t accept that he is back out on the streets, Nick walks an increasingly dangerous tightrope. He may have to break all of his rules if he wants to find a way out of the situation he finds himself in.

Steve Hamilton is a tremendously talented writer. His depictions of the midwest and Chicago in particular carry an authenticity to them that brings the locale to life. He skillfully breathes life and depth into his characters, exploring their backstory while always moving the plot relentlessly forward. It’s impossible not to root for Nick Mason especially when the prospects for him escaping the noose tightening around his neck look increasingly grim.

The Second Life of Nick Mason flies by with great pacing and outstanding action scenes. Hamilton made a bold choice to start a new series with a new character, and it has definitely paid off. Treat yourself to this one. Highly recommended.

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hell's Gate by Bill Schutt and J. R. Finch

Description: When a Japanese submarine is discovered abandoned deep in the Brazilian wilderness, a smart, adventurous, and tough zoologist must derail a catastrophic plot in Hell’s Gate.

1944. As war rages in Europe and the Pacific, Army Intel makes a shocking discovery: a 300-foot Japanese sub marooned and empty, deep in the Brazilian interior. A team of Army Rangers sent to investigate has already gone missing. Now, the military sends Captain R. J. MacCready, a quick-witted, brilliant scientific jack-of-all-trades to learn why the Japanese are there—and what they’re planning.

Parachuting deep into the heart of Central Brazil, one of the most remote regions on the planet, Mac is unexpectedly reunited with his hometown friend and fellow scientist Bob Thorne. A botanist presumed dead for years, Thorne lives peacefully with Yanni, an indigenous woman who possesses mysterious and invaluable skills. Their wisdom and expertise are nothing short of lifesaving for Mac as he sets out on a trail into the unknown.

Mac makes the arduous trek into an ancient, fog-shrouded valley hidden beneath a 2000-foot plateau, where he learns of a diabolical Axis plot to destroy the United States and its allies. But the enemy isn’t the only danger in this treacherous jungle paradise. Silently creeping from the forest, an even darker force is on the prowl, attacking at night and targeting both man and beast. Mac has to uncover the source of this emerging biological crisis and foil the enemy’s plans . . . but will he be in time to save humanity from itself?

Hell’s Gate is a great new historical action (I could add about 20 more adjectives) thriller from Bill Schutt and J. R. Finch. Think Indiana Jones meets Michael Crichton. Set in 1944 as World War II is winding down in Europe, Hell’s Gate features Axis soldiers, rocket scientists, and the jungles of Brazil that swallow up Japanese submarines and Army Rangers with equal appetite. And then it gets scary. Captain R.J. “Mac” MacCready is a zoologist called in to discover what the Axis powers are up to deep in jungles of Brazil. Discovering his long-presumed dead friend Bob Thorne and his indigenous wife Yanni, Mac makes plans for Bob and Yanni to get the word out about what the Nazi’s are up to while Mac tries to get closer to the Axis base and disrupt their plans.

While Mac tries to halt the Nazi plans, something in the jungle is stalking them all. Something that the natives both fear and respect. Whether this new threat will stop the enemy or turn out to be the key in their devastating plan to destroy the United States is a terrifying question.

The authors bring a wealth of knowledge to this novel, from history to botany to zoology. This level of realism heightens the thrills. While reading, I found myself swatting at imaginary insects and listening for sounds in the night, so convincingly did I feel like I was in the jungle. The three main characters, Mac, Bob and Yanni shared an easy camaraderie and were fun to root for. The Nazi and Japanese military and scientists ran the gamut from short-sighted to chillingly evil. There were some bumps typical to a first book in a series, namely rough edges on the characters and a plot that was a little choppy moving forward from time to time. On the whole this is an exciting thriller and adventure story. It’s also going to give you a wonderful case of the creeps as you lose yourself in the jungles of Brazil, with Nazi’s on one side of you and something that goes “click click” in the night and whispers in your ear not to worry on the other side.

This is a wonderful new book with characters that set up nicely for more adventures. Sign me up! Fans of James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Michael Crichton, and Alistair MacLean will all find something to love here. Highly recommended!

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