ALLURE OF DECEIT: American philanthropy brings deadly trouble to rural Afghanistan in this intelligent thriller – #fiction #bookreview

 

Allure of Deceit

Susan Froetschel

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

The road to hell definitely is paved with good intentions in this well-written, intelligent, engrossing thriller. Some Americans with “do good” desires blunder into a culture they do not understand–rural Afghanistan–and create one hell of a mess as they attempt to offer “help” that most of the Afghans do not want, need, or, in many cases, even comprehend.

Allure of Deceit takes us into a world where many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from outside Afghanistan are competing for contracts and clients within that troubled nation. And some are throwing around money and promises with little understanding of their unintended consequences.

At the same time, some Afghans, Americans and others are taking advantage of the financial possibilities by helping NGOs find “worthy” programs or individuals to support. “The foreign charities prefer a neat, simple story,” a lawyer counsels a woman prisoner in an Afghan prison at one point in the story. The prisoner has a less-than-simple past, of course, but the NGOs want to just see her as a victim of an acid-in-the-face attack. And her lawyer wants to keep it that way as organizations compete to get her freed, get her some surgery and offer her a brand-new life.

Out in the isolated countryside, meanwhile, ancient and very delicate tribal, family and cultural balances are being disrupted, directly and indirectly, by NGO representatives and by deeply rooted beliefs now crashing against unwanted influences from outside. When some of the Americans end up missing, the searches to find them cause even more unraveling within families and lifelong friendships. And several lives soon are put in danger.

The story moves carefully at first, while complicated relationships, customs and remote locales are set up and put into conflict. Then, in the second half of the book, the action speeds up, and the tensions and dangers quickly escalate.

Allure of Deceit surges to a dramatic, unexpected conclusion that will keep echoing in readers’ minds long after they finish the book.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn

Steven Saylor’s ‘The Seven Wonders’ – A fine intro to Gordianus the Finder, famous sleuth of ancient Rome – #bookreview #in #mystery #fiction

The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World
Steven Saylor
(Minotaur Books, hardback, list price $25.99; Kindle edition, $12.99)

To be honest, until I picked up this book, I had paid zero attention to best-selling author Steven Saylor’s long-running Roma Sub Rosa series of mysteries set in ancient times, in the Roman Empire. The hero in that series’ 10 novels and two short story collections is Gordianus the Finder, Rome’s most sought-after investigator.

I’ve never been keen on stories (or movies) where people run around in togas and sandals, swear upon assorted gods and goddesses, and kill each other with swords or poisons.

Also, my notion of private detectives has tended to go back only as far as Sherlock Holmes. I’ve mainly been a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer kind of guy. You know, fists and firearms, not swords and sandals.

The Seven Wonders, the new “prequel” to the Roma Sub Rosa series, has, however, just expanded my horizon quite a bit. Saylor has created a mystery- and adventure-packed tale that introduces Gordianus as a young man, before he has assumed the mantle of “The Finder” from his father.

The tale is set in 92 B.C., a time when the Roman Empire still dominates Greece. But rumors of war are afoot (literally), spies are everywhere, and even the most seemingly trustworthy friend cannot really be trusted amid all of the anti-Roman political intrigue.

It is also the year when Gordianus has reached – and at last crossed – the dividing line between childhood and getting to wear the “manly toga” of an adult. He’s now ready to leave home – Rome – and have some adventures.

He soon gets much more than he expects as he travels with his tutor and travel guide, the aging Antipater of Sidon, “one of the most celebrated poets in the world, famed not only for the elegance of his verses but for the almost magical way he could produce them impromptu, as if drawn from the aether.”

A real figure in history, Antipater has been given at least some of the credit for coming up with the famous list of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In the novel, the poet leaves Rome under mysterious circumstances but takes Gordianus along as he revisits each of the Seven Wonders. He carefully tutors the young Roman, yet things quickly and repeatedly go awry. At their first stop, for example, the Greeks’ wondrous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a young girl drops dead unexpectedly during a major celebration. And Gordianus stealthily investigates, using skills learned from his father, a man who “called himself Finder, because men hired him to find the truth.”

The Finder’s son soon determines that the young girl was murdered. Meanwhile, another young girl has been blamed and will die if Gordianus can’t solve his first case fast enough. He succeeds in a clever way, kills his first bad guy, and also has his first sexual encounter, thanks to the sensuous generosity of a beautiful slave woman who has helped him trap the murderer.  

There are then six more Wonders to see, and at each stop, Saylor provides the reader with mysteries rich in history, legend, danger, plot twists and engrossing entertainment as the youthful Gordianus struggles to puzzle them out.

Steven Saylor, who lives in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas, is a rare kind of writer, one who deftly blends scholarly detail with fast-paced fiction and makes dead worlds seem to come alive again.

I’m now a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer/Gordianus kind of guy when it comes to detective fiction. And, thanks to this clever prequel, I’m ready to stop ignoring and start reading the Roma Sub Rosa series.

The Seven Wonders will be available starting June 5, 2012 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Lone Star Noir: Deep in the (Dark) Heart of Texas

 Fans of noir fiction prefer their stories dark and gritty.

They relish harsh tales told from troubled viewpoints: crime victims, serial killers, suspects, witnesses.

A private eye may be snooping around somewhere nearby. But cops and sheriff’s deputies are not yet on the scene. A terrible act central to the story is just about to be discovered. Or it is just minutes away from happening.

Lone Star Noir fits this story pattern almost perfectly. Fourteen hardboiled short stories, set deep in the darkest heart of Texas, take the book’s readers to life’s ragged edges. You move along grim roads leading “to the tail end of everything,” to places where “a plain bare bulb swings overhead, casting a dizzying light,” and into the company of people who understand “guns and dope and greed and hatred and delusion…” probably better than they understand anything else.

Published by Akashic Books, Lone Star Noir is edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd, the co-publishers of Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso.

The book cuts the state into three regions: Gulf Coast Texas, Back Roads Texas, and Big City Texas. Each region in the book, of course, has its own flair for sinister settings.

The stories are new, and most of the 15 writers (one story has two authors) have some kind of connections to the Lone Star State, which Bobby Byrd contends “bleeds noir fiction.”

A cautionary notice: Lone Star Noir is alive with raw language and murderous events. It is definitely not for the easily offended, nor the faint of heart.

Noir fiction can bring you face to face with people you would never want to meet, nor be. And it reminds readers how humanity’s darkest possibilities lie just beneath everyday life’s thin veneer.

Lisa Sandlin’s short story “Phelan’s First Case” focuses on a rookie Beaumont private detective who tries to solve a missing-person mystery in the gloomy Big Thicket north of Houston. Meanwhile, another mystery that could get somebody killed starts unfolding back at his office while he is away.

In “Bottomed Out,” Dean James’ gruesome tale, a Dallas company’s German “troubleshooter” gets a manager fired but also frames him for another employee’s murder.

And Jessica Powers’ short story “Preacher’s Kid” takes the reader inside the mind of a West Texas preacher. He tries and fails to stop his son from drinking, but he has to confront a much deeper and more painful truth about his family.

Akashic Books started its original noir anthology series in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Since then, approximately 40 noir story collections have been published, ranging from Chicago Noir to Paris Noir and Wall Street Noir. More are scheduled, including Cape Cod Noir and Pittsburgh Noir.

According to Bobby Byrd, many people arrive in Texas expecting to see J.R. Ewing or Larry McMurtry characters lurking behind every oil rig and cattle herd.

“The real Texas,” he insists, “hides out in towns and cities like you’ll find in Lone Star Noir.

Maybe, maybe not. In any case, it is infinitely safer to read the book and not go looking for proof — and trouble — at the end of dark Texas roads.

Si Dunn

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Fast-Paced Action: By Sea, by Land and by Air

Corsair
By Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul
(Putnam, $27.95, hardback)

Some fans of Jack Du Brul’s writing think his name should be listed first on the cover of Corsair, a new installment in the popular Oregon Files series.

But, regardless of who actually wrote what within this 437-page action-thriller, the team of Cussler and Du Brul has cranked out an impressive and fast-paced tale. It has surprising twists and turns on almost every page once the story hits full stride (or full speed ahead).

The Oregon is a ship within a ship. On the outside, she appears to be a 560-foot freighter so battered and rusty that Davy Jones’ locker will be the next port of call. Very cleverly hidden inside, however, is a world of surprises. When the ship is commandeered and the crew is seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, the cocky sea criminals have no idea they have climbed aboard an amazing death trap.

In secret compartments deep inside its cargo holds, behind and beneath tightly packed containers and goods, the Oregon has another crew. (The ones now being held at gunpoint by the pirates are actors who happen to be skilled at fighting and killing.) The real crew is manning computers, video monitors, the ship’s enormously powerful high-tech engines, and a staggering array of weapons. The pirates are unaware that their every move now is being watched and that the hidden part of the Oregon’s crew is in complete control of the ship, not them.

Indeed, the Oregon is a ship full of mercenaries of the toughest type. “They typically worked for the (U.S.) government, tackling operations deemed too risky for American soldiers or members of the intelligence community, on a strictly cash-only basis,” the co-authors have written.

When the Somalis take their battered and rusty “prize” upriver to their leader, they are unaware that they are helping the Oregon capture him for the CIA and the World Court.

That operation is just the beginning of the action for the Oregon’s crew of weapons and technology specialists. Led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, chairman of the shadowy “Corporation,” and Max Hanley, its president, the ship soon has to go into harm’s way in a very big way. Their mission is to try to figure out what has happened to the American Secretary of State, whose plane has gone missing somewhere near the Tunisian-Libyan border on the eve of a vitally important peace conference.

What unfolds next is a sequence of unexpected events that tests virtually every weapon the Oregon can muster and almost every new idea her leaders and crew can create — in the heat of battle after battle after battle.

Corsair quickly accelerates to fighting speed for an afternoon or two of engrossing reading. It loses momentum only briefly amid some of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics. All in all, it is a very satisfying action-thriller. 

 — Si Dunn is a screenwriter, script doctor, book author and book review columnist.

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