Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten

I will confess that I was initially drawn to Saving Max because my son’s name is Max. I noticed the name over at NetGalley and decided it was worth a read.

Here is publisher’s synopsis:

Max Parkman—autistic and whip-smart, emotionally fragile and aggressive—is perfect in his mother’s eyes. Until he’s accused of murder.

Attorney Danielle Parkman knows her teenage son Max’s behavior has been getting worse—using drugs and lashing out. But she can’t accept the diagnosis she receives at a top-notch adolescent psychiatric facility that her son is deeply disturbed. Dangerous.

Until she finds Max, unconscious and bloodied, beside a patient who has been brutally stabbed to death.

Trapped in a world of doubt and fear, barred from contacting Max, Danielle clings to the belief that her son is innocent. But has she, too, lost touch with reality? Is her son really a killer?

With the justice system bearing down on them, Danielle steels herself to discover the truth, no matter what it is. She’ll do whatever it takes to find the killer and to save her son from being destroyed by a system that’s all too eager to convict him.

I was initially frustrated. The lead character, Max’s mom Danielle, wasn’t a very sympathetic character to me. She seemed pushy and impatient and grating in many ways. This, and the fact that I was reading it in short spurts most of the time, made the story languish.

But once you get to the bloody scene in the hospital things begin to pick up and there are a number of twists and turns that keep you guessing. And of course, Danielle is vindicated to some degree (I won’t spoil it any more than that).

In the end I found it a story where the “hook” is greater than the prose – the creative storyline better than the writing that describes it. Once the story picked up some steam it was entertaining for the most part – I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened – but it left you kind flat at the end.

In the Mail: Fly By Wire

Fly By Wire by Ward Larsen

Publishers Weekly

A serviceable hero and plot propel this largely workmanlike thriller from Larsen (Stealing Trinity). Tough, uncompromising National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jammer Davis attempts to uncover the cause of a mysterious crash of the brand new CargoAir C-500, a flying-wing cargo plane operating under fly-by-wire technology. Meanwhile, a series of terrorist suicide attacks threatens oil facilities around the world. Jammer, aided by his semi-love interest, CIA agent Anna Sorensen, will stop at nothing as he bulls his way through bureaucratic obstruction, inept and corrupt officials, hired killers, and problems at home with his teenage daughter, Jenny. Eventually, he gets on the trail of a far larger plot involving a cabal of international businessmen out for economic gain. Larsen ties up all his loose ends nicely, and a nail-biter conclusion finally heats up the action.

In the Mail: Intelligence by Susan Hasler

Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA by Susan Hasler

Publishers Weekly

A 21-year veteran of the CIA, Hasler charts the day-to-day efforts of a team of counterterrorist analysts (aka alchemists) in a strong debut that puts most other thriller authors with similar backgrounds in the intelligence field to shame. Madeline James and her crew of brilliant misfits struggle to piece together shreds of evidence gleaned from mountains of raw data (slag) in a race to uncover a plot that threatens to dwarf the body count of 9/11. They must also battle a management structure bent on denying their findings so the current administration will have the ammunition needed to justify going to war with Iran. The parallels with recent history add to the credibility and suspense. Readers will be left aghast at the toll politics and basic self-serving, cover-your-ass government policies take on agencies and individuals whose job is to keep our country safe. Many will find Hasler’s female point-of-view a welcome change from the usual smash and bash male offering in the genre.

In the Mail: thriller edition

–> The Shimmer by David Morrell

The Shimmer

From the Publisher

When a high-speed chase goes terribly wrong, Santa Fe police officer Dan Page watches in horror as a car and gas tanker explode into flames. Torn with guilt that he may be responsible, Page returns home to discover that his wife, Tori, has disappeared.

Frantic, Page follows her trail to Rostov, a remote town in Texas famous for a massive astronomical observatory, a long-abandoned military base, and unexplained nighttime phenomena that draw onlookers from every corner of the globe. Many of these gawkers—Tori among them—are compelled to visit this tiny community to witness the mysterious Rostov Lights.

Without warning, a gunman begins firing on the lights, screaming “Go back to hell where you came from,” then turns his rifle on the bystanders. A bloodbath ensues, and events quickly spiral out of control, setting the stage for even greater violence and death.

Page must solve the mystery of the Rostov Lights to save his wife. In the process, he learns that the decaying military base may not be abandoned at all, and that the government may have known about the lights for decades. Could these phenomena be more dangerous than anyone could have possibly imagined?

–>Trust Me by Peter Leonard

From Booklist

Leonard’s first novel, Quiver (2008), displayed some rookie flaws, but his second effort establishes him as a genuinely gifted storyteller. Although the book is similar in many ways to the hard-edged, witty, character-driven novels of Leonard’s father, Elmore, it has its own voice and its own stylistic flourishes. In this fast-paced, elaborately plotted tale, a woman concocts a scheme to retrieve $300,000 from an ex-boyfriend, but she doesn’t count on the wrath of an angry thug, her ex-boyfriend’s scheming nephew, or a pair of hit men with their own plans for that 300 grand. While the cachet of the author’s more famous father should guarantee the novel plenty of interest, it’s Peter Leonard’s own talent that shines through here. In time, if you find yourself referring to “that really cool mystery writer, Leonard,” you might have to explain which one you’re talking about.

–>Water Witch by Deborah Leblanc

From the Publisher

People are disappearing in the mysterious bayous of Louisiana and it’s up to a local “water witch,” a woman with powers of divination, to try to find them before more people disappear.

In the Mail

Book cover of

Book cover via Amazon

–> American Rifle: A biography by Alexander Rose

Amazon.com Review

Given the title, American Rifle is a book that many potential readers might dismiss without a thought. Don’t do it: Alexander Rose’s peculiar “biography” is not written for gun enthusiasts–though they’ll certainly enjoy it–but for anyone interested American history from George Washington to the Wild West to Iraq. Drawing on original sources ranging from Samuel Colt to the soldiers who depend on the weapon the most, this book is an exhaustive history of the rifle’s place in American culture, not only as an instrument of war, but also as a driver of technological innovation and advances in mass production that helped propel the United States into its role as both a military and economic superpower. Once you start, American Rifle will have to be pried from your cold, dead hands before you put it down.

–> The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver

Synopsis

When a night-time call to 911 from a secluded Wisconsin vacation house is cut short, offduty deputy Brynn McKenzie leaves her husband and son at the dinner table and drives up to Lake Mondac to investigate. Was it a misdial or an aborted crime report?

Brynn stumbles onto a scene of true horror and narrowly escapes from two professional criminals. She and a terrified visitor to the weekend house, Michelle, flee into the woods in a race for their lives. As different as night and day, and stripped of modern-day resources, Brynn, a tough deputy with a difficult past, and Michelle, a pampered city girl, must overcome their natural reluctance to trust each other and learn to use their wits and courage to survive the relentless pursuit. The deputy’s disappearance spurs both her troubled son and her new husband into action, while the incident sets in motion Brynn’s loyal fellow deputies and elements from Milwaukee’s underside. These various forces race along inexorably toward the novel’s gritty and stunning conclusion.

The Bodies Left Behind is an epic cat-and-mouse chase, told nearly in real-time, and is filled with Deaver’s patented twists and turns, where nothing is what it seems, and death lingers just around the next curve on a deserted path deep in the midnight forest.

In the Mail

Book cover of

Book cover via Amazon

–> American Rifle: A biography by Alexander Rose

Amazon.com Review

Given the title, American Rifle is a book that many potential readers might dismiss without a thought. Don’t do it: Alexander Rose’s peculiar “biography” is not written for gun enthusiasts–though they’ll certainly enjoy it–but for anyone interested American history from George Washington to the Wild West to Iraq. Drawing on original sources ranging from Samuel Colt to the soldiers who depend on the weapon the most, this book is an exhaustive history of the rifle’s place in American culture, not only as an instrument of war, but also as a driver of technological innovation and advances in mass production that helped propel the United States into its role as both a military and economic superpower. Once you start, American Rifle will have to be pried from your cold, dead hands before you put it down.

–> The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver

Synopsis

When a night-time call to 911 from a secluded Wisconsin vacation house is cut short, offduty deputy Brynn McKenzie leaves her husband and son at the dinner table and drives up to Lake Mondac to investigate. Was it a misdial or an aborted crime report?

Brynn stumbles onto a scene of true horror and narrowly escapes from two professional criminals. She and a terrified visitor to the weekend house, Michelle, flee into the woods in a race for their lives. As different as night and day, and stripped of modern-day resources, Brynn, a tough deputy with a difficult past, and Michelle, a pampered city girl, must overcome their natural reluctance to trust each other and learn to use their wits and courage to survive the relentless pursuit. The deputy’s disappearance spurs both her troubled son and her new husband into action, while the incident sets in motion Brynn’s loyal fellow deputies and elements from Milwaukee’s underside. These various forces race along inexorably toward the novel’s gritty and stunning conclusion.

The Bodies Left Behind is an epic cat-and-mouse chase, told nearly in real-time, and is filled with Deaver’s patented twists and turns, where nothing is what it seems, and death lingers just around the next curve on a deserted path deep in the midnight forest.

The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallinan

Book cover of

Book cover via Amazon

Last year I had this to say about Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart

[It] is a captivating and emotional novel. It is both an exciting expatriate detective novel and an exploration of the power of love and family in the midst of darkness and chaos. I look forward to getting to know Poke Rafferty better as the series continues.

Well, the release of the next Poke Rafferty novel, The Fourth Watcher, gave me just that chance.  And Hallinan has met my high expectations and put this series on my must read list.

Here is PW’s description of the plot in their starred review:

In Hallinan’s stellar sequel to A Nail Through the Heart, travel writer and sometime detective Poke Rafferty is researching the dangerous side of Bangkok for a book when he, his ex-prostitute girlfriend, Rose, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, run afoul of a U.S. Secret Service agent who accuses Rose of passing counterfeit money. The Secret Service is concerned, Poke learns, that the North Koreans have been flooding the world with billions of dollars of fake currency. Poke is then abducted by the beautiful Ming Li, who takes him to his despised father, Frank, who abandoned Poke and his mother many years before. When Frank’s mortal enemy, Colonel Chu, turns up, it’s clear that things are going to hell very quickly, and Poke and his beloved family are not going to escape unscathed.

Just as in the first novel, at the thriller level you have action and suspense with well drawn characters and the gritty and exotic Bangkok setting.  But on another level you have the continued exploration of the emotions involved in complex family relations.  Hallinan continues to flush out the relationships of Poke, Rose, and Miaow but ads in the backstory of Poke’s relationship with his father and the challenge of his newfound sister.  All of the conflicting emotions, and loyalties, poke feels add to the tension as he tries to get to the bottom of what he sees as a threat to his life with Rose and Miaow.

Hallinan fills the story with interesting characters.  You have a sinister and dangerous Chinese gangster, an ex-CIA agent with dubious loyalties, a gung-ho Secret Service Agent, and all the colorful characters that make up Poke’s life (his friend the Bangkok cop, Rose’s former exotic dancers turned maids, and now his father and sister).  And as noted, Bangkok is itself a character; the culture and the weather are ever present.

All of this makes for first rate thriller with a depth you don’t always find in the genre.  If you haven’t discovered this series, I highly recommend it.