Sunday, April 23, 2017

Executive Order by Max Allan Collins with Matthew V. Clemens: Reading Room Review

Ready! Set! Action!   One of the best measures of a book being a great read is that you simply cannot put it down.  Executive Order engages the reader on the first page and doesn’t let go until the last page.  Political thriller, murder mystery, crime story.  This third and final Reeder and Rogers book has it all, and Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens tell it so well that I knew I was in the presence of great storytellers.  Before reading this series, starting with Supreme Justice and followed by State of the Union and Executive Order, I would have argued that political stories were just not my cup of tea.  Of course, the Reeder and Rogers series taught me a thing or two about making such predictions ever again. 

When four CIA operatives are killed in the Eastern European country of Azbekistan as the Russians invade that country, the President of the United States enlists the aid of Joe Reeder, an ex-Secret Service agent and currently the owner of an international security company.  The President had given orders that no agents were to be sent to that area and needs to find out who sent them and why.  Reeder has proven his usefulness and brilliant investigative skills in prior situations of national security. 

Reeder’s preferred partner in working difficult national situations is Patti Rogers, the leader of the FBI Special Situations Task Force.  Rogers and her team have just begun to investigate the death of the Secretary of the Interior from an allergic reaction to a delivered lunch.  Reeder, with his radar for reading people and uncanny hunches starts to suspect that the two events aren’t as unrelated as they first appear.  Reeder and Rogers start pooling their information, and it’s not long before others start to die and the unthinkable becomes the reality.  A well-hidden conspiracy must be rooted out and brought to light, but Reeder and Rogers become targets themselves in a fight where winner takes all. 

Collins and Clemens have given us a thriller with a storyline that is as timely as it is frightening.  Set in Washington, D.C. in the not too distant future, the world stage and the problems of the United States seem all too familiarly frightening, but with unseen enemies pulling strings that raises the level of concern to a frantic level.  The gripping aspect to this story is that it is plausible.    The characters, both major and minor play their parts well, and the dialogue is a witty success.  The authors started this trilogy with a bang, and they have ended it the same.  I’m sure to be one of many who wishes there were more Reeder and Rogers to come. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day: Reading Room Review

Reading Room Review:

The Day I DiedThe Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How to start the review of a book that is so special you held it to your bosom after finishing it. Well, luckily the brilliant author, unbeknownst to her, provided me with the perfect opening. Lori Rader-Day recently posted a previous piece she had written about repeatedly watching a Prince guitar performance and why she kept watching it. She stated,
“Mastery shows. Mastery is worth the effort. When an artist is in command of his or her form, you want to be a part of it.”
Yes, mastery does show, and The Day I Died shines with it from start to finish.

Anna Winger is a single mother of a teenage boy living in a small Indiana town. Sounds rather ordinary. Oh, but Anna is anything but ordinary, and her life with her son has been one on the run, from town to town, hiding in amongst the ordinary. Anna’s job is highly unusual, as she is a handwriting analyst. Not a parlor trick or a festival fundraiser, Anna is a skilled handwriting analyst hired by companies wanting to screen prospective employees and sometimes by people wanting to screen their love life partners. It’s a job that she can do from anywhere, so moving around hasn’t impaired her ability to make a living. However, it has impaired her ability to make meaningful connections with people other than her son, thirteen-year-old Joshua. But, Joshua is beginning to need more than a life of uncertain connections and unanswered questions.

Anna is struggling to keep her world contained in its no frills, minimum contact style when she is asked to examine a ransom note in a local missing child case. Arriving at the sheriff’s office to analyze the handwriting on the note, she first meets Sherry, the receptionist, and then Sheriff Russ Keller. She learns some about the missing boy and his family, and she is already more involved in a community’s problem than she ever intended. What started as a favor to her mentor/boss, who makes sure work comes her way, quickly becomes a slippery slope into emotions previously held in check and participation in a community where she had hoped to remain aloof. The missing toddler and his also missing mother triggers a protective response from Anna in what could easily be a dangerous family dynamic. The discovery of the child’s nanny dead and obviously murdered raises the stakes of the investigation, and Sheriff Keller, who had been dismissive of Anna’s skills, now turns to her as a resource.

As the usually reticent Anna becomes more immersed in the missing child case, her own secrets are getting harder to keep, especially from her son. Being on the run for thirteen years has taken its toll on both. Then, Joshua goes missing. Anna knows her attempts at a sequestered existence have fallen apart. Her search for her son will reveal Anna’s backstory of why she has spent her life running and afraid, and lives will be changed.

It’s too simplistic to say that Rader-Day’s novels are character driven, although the main character is undeniably expertly crafted. The ordinariness of the character reveals an extraordinary story, a life fought for and paid for with a high emotional price. Anna Winger is an extraordinary survivor disguised in an ordinary life. The job she works as a handwriting analyst is symbolic of her uncommon self. The author surrounds Anna with a cast of characters who are also called on to rise to the telling of the story and be more than they look on the surface. The characters are given great advantage to accomplish their work with a plot, pacing, and dialogue that are remarkable.

Lori Rader-Day has written a book that requires a warning label. “Do not read until you have a clear schedule.” I luckily could devote a day on my Hawaiian vacation, as well as a night, to reading The Day I Died. You will not want to leave it, so plan accordingly. From the enticing prologue, “On the day I died, I took the new oars down to the lake,” to the twist of an ending, Lori Rader-Day spins a tale whose mastery will make you want to read it again and again.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.