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[722] The Day After Tomorrow – Allan Folsom

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” That the creature was innately evil, had caused the deaths of two people and horribly and inexorably gnarled Paul Osburn’s own life from childhood on, seemed, at this point, to have little meaning. It was enough to have gotten the beast this far. ” (Ch.35, p.161)

The Day After Tomorrow is a thrill ride right from the beginning. Set in 1996, but hinged on a murder thirty years ago, the thriller weaves together three stories of global intrigue that bear no connection at a glance. A doctor has to confront his father’s killer; a detective investigates a series of horrible murders in which victims were all decapitated; an international organization devises a master plan of apocalyptic dimensions.

Something told him they weren’t, that somehow, in some way, the two wholly disparate situations were intertwined. And the coupling, though he had absolutely no evidence to back it up—had to be Osburn. (Ch.59,p.285)

Paul Osburn is an American surgeon who has never been able to close the emotional door on his father’s gruesome killing—right in front of his eyes. When he recognizes the man in a Parisian café, he attacks him with a blind, burst of uncontrollable rage, and thus plunging himself into a conspiracy, a neo-Nazi cabal to resurrect the Third Reich. Osburn soon tracks down and identifies his father’s killer as Albert Merriman, a career criminal supposedly dead since 1967. Osburn plans to eliminate Merriman after forcing out the truth of the murder, but a violent twist leaves him with no answer but another name, Erwin Scholl, who hired Merriman to kill four other men, all involved in the design and development of equipment for ultra-low temperature surgery. It seems like everyone who has a sixth degree of separation with this hired assassin is brutally eliminated, and Merriman himself is shot by an assailant Osburn believes to be in the hire of Scholl.

Perhaps what he had learned was already too much. He though of Karolin Henniger and her son, running from him in the alley. How many more had died because of his own personal quest? Most had been totally innocent. (Ch.127, p.615)

Osburn’s search for answer and attempt at closure have opened a Pandora box so dangerous that, in order to preserve its secret, the Organization would kill at all expenses. LAPD McVeg is recruited to investigate the series of murders of seven victims who show evidence of being kept in a cryogenic freezer. As the three plot fronts slowly converge, a series of violent sabotages aimed at McVeg and Osburn thwarts them from getting to the bottom of the matter which is shocking, believable and ludicrous at the same time.

The book just flies through a relentlessly breakneck speed, which aptly balances the heavy politics. The implications of what unfolds at the end could be disturbing—how a so-called elitist group determined to create a supremacy race at the expense of innocent lives. Those who helped contribute to the ambitious plan were put to death for the purpose of discretion. There’s something very spine-chilling about the spiritual and scientific affirmation of the whole master plan.

725 pp. Hachette Books. Pocket paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[721] Well-Schooled in Murder – Elizabeth George

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” He wouldn’t sneak. That’s what it came down to, didn’t it? That’s the sum total of what he’d learned at Bredgar Chambers. To withhold the truth out of loyalty to one’s mates. How pathetic. What miserable creatures these places breed. ” (Ch.22, p.394)

Well-Schooled in Murder is set in the late 1980s, at Bredgar Chambers, an elite public school in the south of England founded in 1489. It’s a mystery that revolves around the strict yet unwritten code of behavior prevalent at independent schools which dictates that under circumstances must pupils ever tell on their schoolmates, no matter what they have done. When a 13-year-old boy goes missing one Friday afternoon and two days later is found dead in a church-yard an hour’s drive away, Inspector Lynley and his partner, Sergeant Havers, are up against a student body sealed in silence.

The pupils began to file out of the chapel—row after row of them, standing tall, their eyes straight ahead, their uniforms pressed, their hair neatly combed, their faces fresh. They must know, he thought, all of them.They’ve known all along. (Ch.17, p.288)

What appears first to be an elaborate ruse orchestrated by the boy to allow himself a weekend of freedom quickly points to murder of a disturbing and gruesome manner. He was found nude, with signs of being tortured—evidence that points to sadism, homosexuality, and molestation, so detrimental to the school’s reputation that the headmaster puts a lid on the incident. So begins a twisted, convoluted, and emotionally draining story as the Scotland Yard pair takes on a pointed exploration into both the written and unwritten codes of confidentiality that transcend the conduct of pupils. Even the adults, the teachers, the housemasters and headmaster have dark secrets they prefer buried.

George has a deft hand in exploring the multi-facets of the murder, whichever path she explores, reader is taken down the pathways of guilt, earned or unearned, as well as remorse. These elements of guilt, remorse, and honor take Lynley, Havers, and the reader through multiple dead ends that cannot immediately account for the full picture of Matthew Whateley’s murder but instead reveals the dark nature of humans. Before the final pages that lift the veil and reveal the true face of the murderer, the same elements of guilt and honor are part and parcel of the failing of a dozen people.

There’s a new tiwst nearly on every page, and the sense of danger elevates as Lynley and Havers peel back the dark and murky secrets of a school that is far more interested in protecting its reputation than helping the investigation. Nobody is what he seems and nobody is above suspicion. Several people are tangentially involved in the boy’s death but without their knowing. The complex rabbit warren of relationships would be key to solving the case. The book offers a piercing study of the education of a gentleman and his responsibilities and valor. Although the perpetrator is brought to justice, the wreck and ruin of all the lives that touch this investigation is truly the most chilling part of the story. After all, as this book goes, it all comes down to how one defies murder and love.

414 pp. Bantam Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Phuket, Thailand

[720] A Coffin for Dimitrios – Eric Ambler

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” Ingenuity is never a substitute for intelligence. ” (Ch.15, p.292)

After finishing A Coffin for Dimitrios, a spy fiction set in the beginning of World War Two, one can see that Ambler’s mix of swift pacing, believable protagonists, and thrilling locales proves an untold influence on those who took up spy-story pen in his wake. The book, originally published in 1939, really holds up as a startling, elegant masterpiece of espionage fiction.

The story is simple but intriguing. Chance encounter with a Turkish colonel in Istanbul leaves writer Charles Latimer mesmerized at a mysterious, elusive personality, Dimitrio Markopoulos, whose body was pulled out of the Bosphorous. Curiosity piqued, and burned with a desire to account for this person, Latimer conducts his own investigation into Dimitrios’s life and death, putting him into a world of political maneuvers, assassination, espionage, and drug trafficking. He’s in contact with a colorful cast of shady characters across Europe who are not so much ruffians but as victims and confidents of Dimitrios.

Even though Ambler spends the bulk of the book poking fun at his protagonist’s idealized concepts of murder and philosophizing about human nature, the story-telling itself is engaging. The prose is light-footed and solid despite the complexity of the international intrigue it depicts, from Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, France and Germany. Underlying the protagonist’s probe of his notorious subject is also a picture of the shifting allegiances leading to World War Two.

The Dimitrios emerged from Latimer’s investigation is a man of many faces, identities, and facets. By no means he’s good: he has used people’s dim wits, has played upon their religious fanaticism, has taken advantage of their simplicity with a skill that’s sophisticated and terrifying. He is a murderer, a robber, a drug peddler, an assassin, a pimp, a thief, a spy, a white slaver, a bully, and a financier. Dimitrios is not evil, he’s only logical and consistent in a world on the brink of belligerency. He curries the favor and works to his own benefits. He polishes the fine arts of survival. Equally intriguing is the writer-cum-amateur investigator. Ambler takes an ordinary man of a writer and drops him in the middle of extraordinary events beyond his imagination that will put him in danger, test his mettle and reveal his inner survivor.

304 pp. Vintage Crime. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Pattaya, Thailand

[719] A Great Deliverance – Elizabeth George

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” She gave curious attention to the open pages of the album. It was a pictorial family record, the kind that documents weddings and births, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. But every picture that had more than one child in it had been cut up in some way, oddly defaced, so that pictures had central slices missing or wedges cut into them, and the size of the family was systematically reduced in every one. The effect was chilling. ” (Ch.6, p.141)

The debut novel introduces Scotland Yard’s inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Barbara Havers, as they investigate a daughter’s brutal murder, a decapitation, of her deeply religious father. The odd pair, suave Lynley with a mix of bravado and sensitivity, and the utterly charmless Havers, is sent to the wilds of Yorkshire, where an obese girl has been found sitting by the headless corpse of her father, covered in his blood and proclaiming her guilt. She admitted to the crime and said nothing else.

The girl is sent to mental asylum. Lynley and Havers weigh in the general conviction in the village that Roberta Teys could not possibly have wielded the bloody axe against mounting evidence that damns the now catatonic girl. What confronts the Lynley and Havers is the question of mental competence arising out of her admission to the crime and her unwillingness to speak.

Tessa’s not dead, Inspector. She deserted William a short time after Roberta was born. He’d hired a detective to find her so that he could have their marriage annulled by the Church. (Ch.7, p.174)

The novel is undercut with many sub-stories that are interwoven into the main murder. These backstories provide a multi-layered insight into the dysfunctional family of William teys, whose wife ran away after being fed up in an unhappy and loveless marriage. She was barred from raising her children. The older daughter, Gillian Teys, also ran away to London she sought refuge in a church that accommodated runaway children. She is the important key to liberate Roberta’s silence.

The plot is slightly overloaded with clues, as the small Yorkshire village seemingly teems in bastard offspring, secret affairs, tangled relationships decoupled and recoupled, and, slowly to be revealed, as the Scotland pair sifts through the ashes of the past, for the two daughters of the murdered man, a long and brutal history of abuse. There is a psychological depth about the book that takes reader into a dark labyrinth of secret scandals. There’s also a rebuttal to religious stupidity that puts holy oath above the safety of children. It’s an impressive debut if not too overwrought.

413 pp. Bantam Books. pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Pattaya, Thailand

[718] The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carré

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” For God’s sake believe me. I hate it, I hate it all; I’m tired. But it’s the world, it’s mankind tat’s gone mad. We’re a tiny price to pay . . . but everywhere’s the same, people cheated and misled, whole lives thrown away, people shot and in prison, whole groups and classes of men written off for nothing. ” (Ch.25, p.221)

For a spy fiction published in 1963, other than the obvious anachronisms like the Berlin Wall, the book does not feel dated at all. The plot deals with a British case officer working in West Berlin who, after losing his last agent operating in East Germany, a high-ranking official possessing knowledge of German intelligence, returns to London to consider retirement. But he must face up to his failure by reporting personally to Control, the head of operation in West Berlin. Certain that his age, and the ignominious collapse of his intelligence network that one time was the glory of the British Secret Service will spell disaster for his career in the eyes of his superiors, Alec Leamas reviews his life.

All our works—yours and mine—is rooted in the theory that the whole is more important than the individual . . . The exploitation of individuals can only be justified by the collective need, can’t it? (Ch.12, p.118)

But Control has one last assignment for Leamas before he can “come in from the cold.” To bring Leamas to the East Germans’ attention as a potential defector, Circus sacks him, leaving him with a small pension. He initiates this secret mission by assaulting a grocer and gets himself arrested. Following his release, he is approached by East German recruiter, and is taken to meet the higher echelons of the Abteilung. From here, this tightly woven, brilliantly executed plot moves at an incredibly fast pace and is filled with superb twists, with characters who all blur the lines between good and bad. Mundt is a former Nazi who is one of the top men in Abteilung. Fiedler, head of East German counter-intelligence, is secretly plotting the downfall of Mundt, whom he believes to be an English double agent. The alliance with Fiedler, who wants to frame Mundt, works in Leamas’ advantage to rid of Mundt, who was responsible for the collapse of Leamas’ network in East Germany. But nothing is what it seems.

Despite the intriguing plot, it’s what the author is talking about that makes this book excellent. Le Carré uses the novel to explore unethical world of espoionage. The theme about how the supposed “good guys” were just as willing to use any individual or deal with any devil to get the job done as the “bad guys” were is just as relevant today as it was when the book was first written. Moral uncertainty still prevails. Le Carré doesn’t give us any heroes; in short, there are no good guys in this story, only bad guys. The end is fatally terminal and inevitable. The book is suspenseful, perfectly edited, and packed with more plot than any book of its size. The book truly defines the genre of spy fiction.

229 pp. Sceptre UK. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[717] Sycamore Row – John Grisham

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” Herschel and Ramona and their families glared with hatred across the aisle at the group of blacks, who eagerly and somewhat smugly returned the looks. Their girl Lettie had been chosen to receive the money, and they were there to fight for her. But the money belonged to the Hubbards. Seth had been out of his mind. ” (Ch.12, p.156)

When a reclusive timber tycoon hangs himself from a sycamore on the edge of his estate, his handwritten will, which leaves the bulk of his fortune not to his two adult children and grandchildren but to his black housekeeper, induces a fierce legal brawl. Knowing the case will be a real sticky matter, Seth Hubbard had selected a young attorney named Jake Brigance who, three years earlier, had secured the acquittal of a black man accused of murder for killing the racists who raped his daughter, to handle his case.

Everything is about race in Mississippi . . . A simple black woman on the verge of inheritng what might be the largest fortune this county has ever seen, and the decision rests with a jury that’s predominantly white. (Ch.10, p.128)

Down with lung cancer and had just weeks to live, Seth Hubbard sent his new revised will, which will cut off his children altogether, to Brigance, instructing him to defend it “to the bitter end.” He knew it would scandalize the whole community, which, even in 1989, could not abide the idea of a black woman inheriting a fortune. But it’s also natural that the jury will take a dim view in the transfer of wealth outside the family, let alone when Seth Hubbard was very sick. A more conventional will, which rewards the Hubbard children and excludes Lettie Lang, has predated the handwritten one. Its existence raises the questions about Hubbard’s testamentary capacity: was he out of it on drugs? Had he been unduly influenced by Lettie? Hubbard was such an enigma that inferring any kind of motive is tricky. It’s Brigance’s job to advocate in favor of the last will and to follow its terms. As investigation on both sides of the trail dig deeper into the past, neither of them is prepared for the true reason behind the suicide and the change of will.

The bigger picture of Sycamore Row is that law is indistinguishable from the history of race in the South. In this novel, the law burdens us with secrets that must be revealed, but the most brutal acts can be balanced by an unexpected act of salvation. Grisham portrays racism as something poignantly inveterate and deeply rooted in our perception. This is a multi-layered legal thriller that evolves and branches off to new direction until the end. The courtroom drama proceeds at a terrific pace, from the gathering of information to selecting jurors. The real drama evolves as Brigance solves the mystery of what Seth Hubbard carefully orchestrated his suicide and bequeathed all his fortune to a black housekeeper who had taken care for him the last three years. What unfolds is how the wrongful acts of the past have continued to haunt and reign over the heart of the present. Grisham leads the reader through the intricacies of the probate process and a brilliant courtroom challenge filled with legal nuances.

642 pp. Dell Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[716] The Eagle Has Landed – Jack Higgins

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” At precisely one o’clock on the morning of Saturday, November 6, 1943, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the SS and Chief of State Police, received a simple message: ‘The Eagle has landed.’ It meant that a small force of German paratroopers were at that moment safely in England and poised to snatch the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from the Norfolk country house where he was spending a quiet weekend near the sea. ” (Prologue)

The Eagle Has Landed is speculative fiction at its best. Set during the World War Two when the war was going badly for Germany in 1943, Hitlet has an idea that if the Germans could make a successful strike against Winston Churchill, perhaps British morale would be so shaken that a negotiated peace could be made. Hitler commissions Himmler to hatch a plan that will either kidnap or kill Churchill, who, the Germans learn from Joanna Grey, a 68-year-old lady-spy living in the Norfolk village of Studley Constable, will be staying with the local lord of the manor. Tasked with planning and carrying out this mission are Radl, Steiner, along with what remains of Steiner’s paratroop assault group after having fought on the Eastern front and then being assigned in disgrace to the Channel Islands, and Devlin, an IRA man resident in Berlin.

Two-thirds of the book devotes to the meticulous planning of this operation to kidnap the British prime minister. Higgins goes into details all the specifics of this operation: parachuting down the hamlet, the chartering of a flight, the recruitment of pilot, the ingenuity of deception, the acquisition of land vehicles and the infiltration into the village. The action is sleek and intensely absorbing, keeping alive one’s eagerness to see what will happen next., as the spy works seamlessly with the assault team to over the village and hold it incommunicado. The genteel lady who spies for Germany manages to fool everyone and win complete trust of the local lord and Father Vereker, who knows of the Prime Minister’s incognito visit but has worn to secrecy. So his commitment to confidentiality works in favor of the assault team because the priest would have thought the German team, disguised and passed as Englishmen, are sent over to guard the PM.

The book is evenly paced and splendidly written. It follows a mission plot that actually makes villainous protagonists sympathetic. The operation might have been successful had it not been for a German soldier who sacrifices his life to save a little girl from drowning in the creek. Higgins takes time to fully develop his characters. The lieutenant-colonel Kurt Steiner is a weary combat veteran who despises the Nazis, and has no choice but to accept the assignment because his involvement might ease up the outcome of trial of his father, who is accused of treason. The only zealot among this assault team, ironically, is a treacherous Englishman, a member of the SS British Free Corps.

The whole orchestration and execution of the mission sends me to the edge of the seat. It’s intensely suspenseful to watch the choreography of these players as the clock is ticking. Higgins has the reader riveted at how his characters realize their fate.

356 pp. Berkley Books. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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