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The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945
Rick Atkinson

The Stonehenge Legacy

The Stonehenge Legacy - Sam Christer A week before the summer solstice, Nathan Chase, a world renowned treasure hunter, kills himself and leaves a cryptic letter for his estranged son, archeologist Gideon Chase. Within hours Gideon discovers his father was involved with a 5,000-year-old “Brotherhood” that worships the sacred Stonehenge stones, which they believe provide worshippers with miraculous health and fortune. In return, the Brotherhood repays the sacred stones with human sacrifices. Soon Gideon must decide whether his destiny involves membership in the Brotherhood or its destruction.

Author Sam Christer has created a truly believable and frightening suspense thriller. The world of the Brotherhood is created with such realistic detail it sent me to Google to see if such a cult ever did exist. (I couldn’t find one.) His characters, especially Gideon, are fully developed. The suspense builds to a tense ending, but the final climax is a bit confusing. I also found the present tense narrative jarring at times, but I view that as more a personal preference than a criticism of Christer’s writing.

All in all, The Stonehenge Legacy is an enjoyable read.

No Mercy (Sgt Major Crane Novels)

No Mercy (Sgt Major Crane Novels) - Wendy Cartmell I’ve wanted to check out Wendy Cartmell’s Sergeant Major Crane mystery series for some time. After all, we both write about military criminal investigators. Wendy’s is an investigator for the British Army’s Special Investigative Branch, the English version of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division. My protagonist is a special agent for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service. So when Wendy sent me a tweet asking me to check out her book No Mercy, I jumped at it.

No Mercy is a collection of short stories, including the Sergeant Major Crane story that gives the book its title. It also includes samples of several of Wendy’s Crane novels. Wendy writes with a clear pen and a sharp eye for detail, both for police procedure and military life (the latter she learned as the wife of a career soldier). She has a wicked wit for devising plots, especially plots in which some deserving soul gets his just reward. God help you if you’re an abusive husband!

No Mercy is a delightful romp through murder and mayhem, and a great introduction to Sergeant Major Crane. As we say in the naval service, Bravo Zulu, Wendy Cartmell. Well done.

Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed - Jack Higgins What would have happened if, during WWII, the German Nazis had been able to kidnap or murder British Prime Minister Winston Churchill? In the dark, early years of the war, Churchill had been the epitome of the British lion; the man who kept England in a war that most European leaders feared was already lost. But in 1943 when this story takes place, the war was going badly for Germany. If the Germans could make a successful strike against Churchill, perhaps British morale would be so shaken a negotiated peace could be made.

This is the premise of what is probably author Jack Higgins’ best known thriller, The Eagle Has Landed. The plot of this 1975 best-selling novel is probably well-known, if not because you’ve read it, then because you’ve seen the 1976 movie with Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland. A group of German paratroopers drop into English country village of Studley Constable disguised as Polish soldiers in order to capture, or kill, Churchill while he relaxes at a nearby country estate. The plot goes awry when a German soldier dies while trying to rescue a small girl who has fallen into a stream. Pulled from the water, the local villagers discover the soldier is wearing his German Army uniform under his Polish uniform.

But that movie was a severely abridged version of Higgins’ story of wartime loyalties and betrayals. In the novel, Higgins takes time to fully develop his characters. There are few ranting Nazis in this book. The German paratroopers are simply good, brave soldiers performing their duty, and ferociously loyal to their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Steiner, a weary combat veteran who despises the Nazis. In fact, the only Nazi zealot among them is a treasonous Englishman, a member of the SS British Free Corps – a pro-Nazi cadre of turncoats – whom the SS forced the paratroopers to bring with them.

Higgins is best in his development of Liam Devlin, the Irish Republican Army member with a poet’s heart, who assists Steiner and his men. Despite his life of violence, Liam finds himself falling in love with a much younger, innocent English girl, a situation which exposes the killer’s humanity and vulnerabilities. You can’t help but root for Liam at the end of the book.

And when he reaches that end, Higgins asks the question that must be asked after every battle and after every war: Was it all worth it? You need to read the book to discover Higgins’ answer.

Eldorado

Eldorado - Jay Allan Storey In post Peak-Oil Vancouver, Canada, the future is not bright. The end of the Petroleum Age means the luxuries we’ve come to enjoy – automobiles, computers, and e-readers – have been left in the distant past. Suburban communities like Surrey have been largely abandoned, and Vancouver itself is becoming a human wasteland of joblessness and homelessness. This is the stage set for author Jay Allan Storey’s new dystopian novel, Eldorado.

The novel’s protagonist, Richard Hampton, is one of the few Vancouver residents with some semblance of a normal life. A college professor, he still has a house which he shares with his younger, troubled teenage brother, Danny. But when Danny disappears, the local police are unable to search for the missing youth, and Richard is forced to give up his comfort and set out to find his brother.

Richard’s journey takes him through the decaying remains of a civilization that was built on cheap oil, and destroyed itself by not heeding the warnings about dwindling oil supplies. The world Storey creates is no Mad Max look at the future, but a sobering, realistic view of what might lie ahead of us.

Those lucky enough to have homes must turn to subsistence farming to survive. Fuel and electricity are rationed by the government. There are few automobiles, and those are owned only by the wealthiest citizens. Bicycles and the occasional antiquated electric street car are the main modes of transport; even the police are restricted to patrolling on small, under-powered motorcycles called “mosquitoes” due to the high-pitch whine of their engines.

Criminal gangs and right-wing militias (who still don’t believe the Oil Age has ended) make the abandoned suburbs where Richard must search a No-Mans-Land. Beyond the setting of Vancouver, wars are being fought for whatever natural resources remain, but without oil the great armies of the United States and China have become little more than 19th century horse-drawn throw-backs.

Eldorado is an engaging and thrilling adventure, while also being a serious and thought provoking warning about the future that lies ahead.

The General's Daughter

The General's Daughter - Nelson DeMille I've watched the movie based on Nelson DeMille’s The General's Daughter many times, but until recently I never had the chance to read it. I was eager to do so, since I am the author of a mystery novel also involving with a military criminal investigator and some of the same themes DeMille covers in this mystery novel.

In The General’s Daughter, Paul Brenner, an investigator with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, is working undercover at a fictitious Army base in Georgia when he is drawn into a case involving the murder of a female Army captain. The case is highly sensitive for two reasons: the victim was found on post naked and staked spread eagle to the ground, an apparent rape victim; the victim, Ann Campbell, is also the rising-star daughter of the fort’s commanding general, a hero of the first Gulf War with political ambitions.

DeMille blends a hard-boiled narration with a police procedural as he takes the reader deep into the lives of the officers who served alongside Captain Campbell. Brenner, a sardonic Vietnam veteran who is nearing the end of his Army career, is teamed with Cynthia Sunhill, a younger, idealistic rape investigator with whom he once had an affair. Together they dig beneath the starched and pressed Dress Green uniforms of the fort’s officer corps to undercover a not-too-well-hidden seediness that threatens to destroy dozens of careers, including the general’s. They also discover that Captain Campbell was as much predator as victim.

DeMille, himself a former Army officer and Vietnam veteran, explores many themes in this book. Officers are expected to live up to a high standard of honor, but in The General’s Daughter he shows that many fail in doing so. Written in 1992, not long after the military integrated the sexes, he explores an Army trying to cope with the still new concept of men and women serving side-by-side. Twenty years later, as the Pentagon deals with sex scandals at the military academies, on the battlefield, and among some of its highest ranking officers, the questions explored in this book are still looking for answers.


I Am Legend

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson I read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend back in – well, I think it was high school. Over the decades, I have seen at least two of the three movies based on this book, including the most recent movie starring Will Smith. Other than the movie adaptions, the only details I remembered about the book was the thought I had as I finished the last chapter: “That was a damn fine novel.”

Published in 1954, Legend is the story of Robert Neville who, for some reason, has survived an epidemic that turns humans into either living or dead vampires. Alone, he struggles to survive, haunting the streets of a post-nuclear conflict Los Angeles by day, and seeking refuge in his fortified home by night from the undead who demand his death. Despite the opposition being vampires, Legend is considered the granddaddy of the zombie genre.

Legend, however, is more than an horror story. It is an exploration of the psychology of a man who survives years alone, not on a deserted island like Robinson Crusoe, but in the middle of a major city that has become the domain of the night dwellers. Matheson, who died within days of my starting this book in June 2013, always rejected the label of horror writer. He simply used the genre he needed to tell the story he wanted to tell stories about the human condition.

If all you’ve seen is the most recent Hollywood version of this book, you know little of the book. In the end, Neville comes to realize the infection has changed humanity – evolved humanity – and that he is, like so many monsters from humanity’s past, has become a legend to the new generation of people.

This is a sci-fi classic that will live forever.

But that’s not the end of this book. Because Legend is a relatively short novel, it also includes several short stories, some of which were later adapted for TV sci-fi shows. The best, in my opinion, were “Mad House,” in which a writer is destroyed by his uncontrollable anger over his life's failures, and the riveting “The Shadow Dance,” in which a medical doctor has to admit there is more to human illness than physical science can explain.

A talent like Richard Matheson will be missed.
X Minus One Project - H.L. Gold,  Frederik Pohl,  Clifford D. Simak,  Philip K. Dick,  H. Beam Piper,  Alan E. Nourse,  Fritz Leiber,  Robert Sheckley,  Juli Carter,  Gregg Margarite Some years ago, after buying a satellite radio, I became a fan of a channel called Radio Classics, which plays radio shows from the ‘30s through the ‘50s. One of my favorite programs is X Minus One, a popular 1950s sci-fi show which aired adaptations of short stories written by some of top writers of the time. The X Minus One Project is a collection of eight short stories adapted by the radio show. Many of the stories are haunting reminders of the fear and pessimism that permeated society during the early Cold War years. All are classics.

2012: The War for Souls

2012: The War for Souls - Whitley Strieber Whitley Strieber is either the most imaginative writer alive or he’s a visionary. Or maybe he just does heavy drugs. Whichever it is, in 2012: The War for Souls, he created a sweeping thriller filled with twists and turns not only in plot, but in science and religion as well.

As indicated by the title, this book centers on the belief that the ancient Mayans believed the world would end – either figuratively or literally ­– on December 21, 2012 because a sophisticated calendar created by them ended on that date. But this is no simple doomsday story, like a certain movie with a similar title. Strieber uses the 2012 deadline (no pun intended) to lay bare multiple layers of the human experience. What is the soul? What is reality? What if there was more than one reality? Can a writer be consumed by the world he or she creates in fiction?

Strieber’s plot centers on the concept of multiple universes – or a multi-verse – which many physicists now believe is possible. In our universe, writer Wylie Dale works on a new novel that seems to come to life for him. In a parallel world (this one with two moons) archaeologist Martin Winters fights to save his family and mankind from an invasion of reptilian humanoids from yet a third parallel earth. The reptilians not only intend to take over the two-moon earth, they also intend to extract and imprison the souls of all its humans, which they will sell to the soul-less inhabitants of their own world.

Author Dale is an obvious and often hilarious alter ego of Strieber himself. Like Strieber, Dale has written a book on his experiences as an alien abductee. Dale becomes submerged in his latest work, going into trance-like states in which he writes for hours about the ordeals of Martin and his family. Soon Dale comes to realize that his fictional hero is not a work of fiction, but an actual person living in a parallel version of his own world, and that the Dale and Winters families are somehow connected across the expanses of universes.

Though centered around the Mayan doomsday myth – which obviously did not come about – 2012: The War for Souls, Strieber’s exploration of issues is still valid today. Most of the reptilian world, for instance, is ruled by an oligarchical corporatocracy that has polluted its world and impoverished its inhabitants, a fate that threatens this world where worshiping corporate profits have replaced the worship of Biblical prophets.

2012: The War for Souls is an enjoyable and thoughtful read.


Plan B - Volume I (Plan B Anthologies)

Plan B: Volume I - Darusha Wehm, Gary Cahill, Tom Ward, Sarah M. Chen, Josh MacLeod, Tekla Dennison Miller, Laird Long, Michael Haynes, Kou K. Nelson, Nick Andreychuk, Tom Swoffer, Martin Roy Hill, Mike Miner, C.D. Reimer I’m not in the habit of reviewing books I have a personal interest in, but having just finished Plan B Mystery Magazine’s “Plan B Anthology: Volume I” I had to give kudos where kudos are due. Edited by author Darusha Wehm, the anthology presents mystery short stories from some of the best established and upcoming mystery writers of the day.

This collection of 13 stories showcases plot where the best laid plans go awry (hence the name, Plan B). In Tom Ward’s ”A Week Abroad,” an assassin stalks his next victim unaware that he, too, is being stalked. “Hostage,” by Tekla Dennison Miller, is a gut-wrenching tale of a prison guard’s imprisonment colored with all the realism only a former prison warden could produce.

For a more light-hearted read, author C.D. Reimer presents his espionage story “The Uninvited Spook.” In “The Little Outlaw,” Mike Miner proves the proverbial apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The “Plan B Anthology: Volume I” is perfect for your summer reading list.

Creepers

Creepers - David Morrell The past plays a major role in many of David Morrell’s novels, and Creepers is no different. A group of creepers – urban explorers who break into old abandoned buildings to document the past – are joined by a reporter as they enter the Paragon Hotel, a once posh hotel that now rots along with many other buildings in Ashbury Park on the Jersey shore. Inside they find secrets – and terrors – that have lain hidden for nearly a hundred years.

The Paragon itself is a time capsule capturing the history of once popular beach resort of Ashbury Park. Individual rooms stand as memorials to former guests who lived and often died there. But the times gone by of Ashbury Park and the Paragon are not the only histories that concern Morrell. Most of the characters in this novel have pasts they would rather forget, and Morrell explores how those pasts can shape or corrupt the individual.

Three of the characters are victims of one sort of torture or another. One faced torment as a POW during the Iraq war. Another was sexually abused as a child. The third was imprisoned by a psychopathic killer. How those experiences shaped their lives is a major theme of the novel.

Creepers starts slow, but builds to a fast paced, heart-thumping climax.

Deep Storm: A Novel

Deep Storm - Lincoln Child I may not remember every detail in the books I’ve read, but I usually remember the titles and the fact I’ve read them. So I didn’t think it bode well for Deep Storm when I started reading it without remembering I had already read it years before. Was it really that forgettable?

No, not forgettable at all. I may not have remembered the title, but I definitely remembered the plot—and it’s a pretty good one.

Dr. Peter Crane is a former U.S. Navy physician with highly respected background in undersea medicine. Therefore, he was not surprised when he was summoned to an oil platform in the North Atlantic to diagnose a strange medical condition spreading through the rig’s crew. Once he arrives, however, Crane discovers the medical condition isn’t affecting the platform’s crew but the crew of a massive underwater facility two miles below the rig. Once sworn to secrecy, Crane is told the submerged facility, called Deep Storm, is excavating an ancient site that may be the remains of the ancient lost civilization Atlantis.

Crane descends to Deep Storm, but as he struggles to discover the source of the strange malady affecting the crew, he begins to suspect there is something far more sinister about the archeological dig than the answer to an ancient myth.

Deep Storm’s plotting is suspenseful and compelling. My only complaint with the book is that Child repeatedly used “sailor,” “Marine,” and “soldier” as if the terms were interchangeable. That’s a real good way to start a bar fight.

Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther, #8)

Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther, #8) - Philip Kerr Phillip Kerr’s iconoclastic German police detective, Bernie Gunther, returns from the Eastern Front to his Kripo homicide office in Berlin, wracked with guilt over what he was forced to do in Belorussia. The last thing he wants is to spend a holiday in Czechoslovakia with the new Reichsprotector, Reinhard Heydrich, the boss he fears and hates. But as Gunther says, no one says no to Heydrich. To make matters worse, Heydrich has invited some of the most heinous Nazis to his estate to celebrate his new appointment. Nothing could make this assignment more dreadful—until one of Heydrich’s adjutants is found murdered in his locked bedroom.

Kerr’s Prague Fatale is a classic locked-door mystery, but this is no Agatha Christie cozy. To identify the killer, Gunther must peel back the layers of corruption, greed, and hypocrisy of the Nazi aristocracy. The mystery’s solution, however, is classic Christie.

Prague Fatale’s narrative has a straight-forward timeline without the back-and-forth flash backs of the preceding two Gunther books, If the Dead Not Rise and Field Gray. This brings it more in line with Kerr’s original Berlin Noir Trilogy. This book was written about time when debate raged in the United States over so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, and Kerr includes a lengthy and detailed description of waterboarding. Interestingly, the Nazi didn’t call it torture either.

The Codex

The Codex - Douglas Preston Douglas Preston’s The Codex is a fun, adventurous romp. An eccentric multi-millionaire, dying of cancer, buries himself and all his wealth in a tomb somewhere in the world. If his three sons want their inheritance, they have to find his tomb and raid it—which is how he earned his wealth.

Unknown to the dying tomb raider, among his belongings is an ancient Mayan codex with a vast knowledge of ancient medical cures that could lead to new advances in medicine. The brothers find themselves on separate trails heading deep into Honduran jungles, pursued by a corrupt former Green Beret working for a large pharmaceutical company.

Like I said, The Codex is a fun read, but not Preston’s best work. There are major holes in the story, such as how the main love interest, a female ethno-pharmacologist, at a crucial point of the story suddenly has the talent of a highly-trained sniper. Nevertheless, The Codex is an entertaining read.

The Rope: An Anna Pigeon Novel (Anna Pigeon Mysteries)

The Rope: An Anna Pigeon Novel (Anna Pigeon Mysteries) - Stuart Harrison,  James Thayer,  Nevada Barr, Robert Harris,  Nicholas Sparks,  Robert Crais,  Rhys Bowen John Grisham Nevada Barr never disappoints. Her Anna Pigeon books do for the National Park system that Tony Hillerman’s books did for the Navajo Reservation—create a magnificent sense of place. I do most of my “reading” in the form of audio books that I listen to on my commute. But Barr is one of the few authors I will only read the old fashion way, with eyes on pages. I want to savor every page.

The Rope is a prequel to Barr’s earlier Pigeon books. It explains how a one-time New York stage manager became a law enforcement ranger for the U.S. National Park Service. Escaping the Big Apple after the death of her husband, Anna takes a temporary position as a seasonal ranger. Shortly after, however, she wakes up to find herself trapped in a deep desert depression with no clothing and no way out of the “solution hole.” Her only company is a baby skunk and the half-buried corpse of a young girl.

Rather than solve the crime of her kidnapping and imprisonment, Anna’s rescue results in more mysterious deaths. Anna Pigeon has to transform herself from a damaged city girl into an outdoor woman capable of holding her own against Mother Nature and the men who dominate the law enforcement ranger force.

As I said, Nevada Barr never disappoints, and The Rope is another fine installment in the Anna Pigeon series.

Fahrenheit 451 (Spanish Language Edition) (Spanish Edition)

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury Everyone seems to know something about Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, even if you haven’t read it. In a future America where books are banned and burned by “firemen,” individuals have given up control of their lives to the simple comforts afforded by the mass media. Wall-size television screens – several to a room – provide viewers with simplistic, positive views of the world. The TVs themselves become the individual’s “family,” offering advice and company. Meanwhile, warplanes zoom overhead as the country prepares to start yet another war, a war no one thinks will affect them in anyway.

Fireman Guy Montag is a man of two worlds. He enjoys burning books, but he also secretly hordes them. Books make him think, make him question the world he lives in, make him question the wife he still loves even though she has isolated herself from him with a constant droning of government-approved platitudes broadcasted her TVs and radio ear plugs. When Montag’s obsession with contraband literature becomes too great, he finds himself on the other side of the law willing to risk everything to save the books he once was paid to destroy.

Bradbury wrote this book in the early 1950s, not much more than a decade after the Nazis burned hundreds of books, during a time in the United States when McCarthyism turned American against American, and when school boards and churches were banning books from school and public libraries.

In today’s America, large-screen televisions boom with the imbecility of reality TV—who will be the next millionaire, singing star, or Donald Trump’s apprentice. Ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan barely touched most Americans. Churches and school boards in Red states are still trying to ban certain books from school and public libraries. The Romans had a term for it: panem et circenses or bread and circuses—creating public approval through diversion.

Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451, still holds up a half century after its first printing.

Impact

Impact - Douglas Preston An American agent hacks his way through the Cambodian jungle, looking for the source of radioactive gems. In Maine, a college dropout looks for the site where a meteor crashed to earth. A scientist in California thinks he has made the greatest discovery in history. In Douglas Preston’s novel, Impact, the three unrelated paths taken by complete strangers come together in an usual cross between mystery thriller and science fiction.

Writing without his usual partner, Lincoln Child, Preston lures readers into believing they’re enjoying a suspenseful mystery, then slowly reveals the story is actually about an ancient and potentially hostile alien civilization. The paths of the three strangers come together with explosive bursts of violence, leaving one dead and the remaining two struggling to save the human race.

Preston’s narration is simple, direct, and compelling; the story arcs of each character pull the reader along the way you might lead a kitten with a string toy. The plot builds to a conundrum, a threat with no solution—until the very last surprising revelation.

I look forward to reading more of Douglas Preston’s work.