Thriller

Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson

Date of Publication: 2009, Zebra Books

Number of Pages: 460

Synopsis (from back cover): Detective Regan Pescoli has worked the “Star Crossed Killer” case for months, never imagining she’s be captured by the madman she’s been hunting. Regan knows exactly what he’s capable of – an avoiding the same fate will take every drop of her courage and cunning.

Regan Pescoli is unlike any woman Nate Santana has met before. But now she’s missing, and Nate knows something is dangerously wrong. The only person who can help him find her is Detective Selena Alvarez, Regan’s partner. As Nate and Selena dig deeper into the Star-Crossed Killer case and the body count rises, the truth about Regan’s disappearance becomes chillingly clear.

In the desolate Montana woods, evil is lurking. And with time running out, the only way to save Regan will be to get inside a killer’s twisted mind and unravel a shocking message that is being revealed, one body at a time…

Review: The story starts out with a bang…literally. As Regan Pescoli is crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, heading toward her ex-husband’s house, her tires are skillfully shot out and she careens off the road. What follows is a frightening imprisonment in the lair of the Star-Crossed Killer. Regan’s disappearance completely takes the sheriff’s department by surprise, and those close to her – her lover, Nate, and her partner, Selena – struggle to unravel the cryptic messages left by the killer with each of his victims.

There was a lot I liked about this book. The pace of the action is excellent, and the small-town characters are vivid and entertaining. Lisa Jackson is able to tell her story not only through action and dialogue, but also through images. The starkness of the Montana winter is expertly described, and even though it’s currently the middle of summer, I found myself growing colder and colder as I read. I could picture each and every scene in my mind with ease, making it seem like I was watching a movie.

However, I did have a few issues with this book. Some of the characters who seem like they’re going to be a significant part of the story are never alluded to again. One example is Grace Perchant, a reclusive woman who talks to spirits. She comes to the police with her psychic intuitions about the killer, never to be mentioned again. The amount of attention that Jackson gives her early on in the story made me expect that Grace would become a central character. However, she’s barely mentioned again. Also, this is apparently the second book in the Star-Crossed Killer series, and some of the characters from the first book (Left to Die), show up again…but for readers, like me, who had not read the first book will remain confused as to their place in the story.

In the end, though, this book is a terrific thriller with plenty of action. The suspense is maintained extremely well, with no slow sections. I did find myself impatient for the conclusion, but that is just more proof of how well Lisa Jackson is able to draw her readers in. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Jackson’s books!

Rating: 8/10

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The Face of Death by Cody McFadyen

Date of Publication: 2007, Bantam Books

Number of Pages: 592

Synopsis (from back cover): A sixteen-year-old girl holds a gun to her head at the scene of a grisly triple homicide. She claims “The Stranger” killed her adoptive family, that he’s been following her all her life, killing everyone she ever loved, and that no one believes her. But Special Agent Smoky Barrett does. Her team has been hand-picked from among the nation’s elite law enforcement specialists and they are as obsessed and relentless as the psychos they hunt; they’ll have to be to deal with this case.

For another vicious double homicide reveals a killer embarked on a dark crusade of trauma and death: an “artist” who’s molding Sarah into the perfect victim – and the ultimate weapon. To catch him, Smoky is going to have to put her own fragile, once-shattered life on the line. For The Stranger is all too real, all too close, and all too determined. And when he finally shows his face, Smoky had better be ready to face her worst fear.

Review: This book was a wonderful, yet horrifying surprise for me. Having never read any other book by McFadyen, I didn’t know what to expect from a main character named Smoky. I didn’t know if this was going to be just another run-of-the-mill thriller, or something worse. but after reading the first three pages, I was immediately drawn into the story and I found myself intensely caring about Smoky, a woman who lost everything and yet gained a unique strength which carried her through the worst imaginable tragedy. It is this strength that Smoky relies upon as she delves further into sixteen-year-old Sarah’s mysterious and unbelievable past. She also relies on her team, a mix of unusual and fun personalities who each bring something different to the investigation. My favorite was the striking redhead, Callie, whose “tell it like it is” mentality brought a breath of humor into the story that it very much needed, given that the bulk of it revolves around incredibly gory and horrific murders.

The story centers on the idea of revenge, and also on the idea that something horrible happening to someone can change him or her into an evil person who is wholly bent on punishing those who, in their mind, are the ones responsible. The Stranger is single-mindedly pursuing and punishing people for his own tragic past. Sarah, as an innocent, is being molded in his image: A Ruined Life. His life was ruined, and now, so is Sarah’s. The crimes, as they are described through Sarah’s bitter diary, are simply horrible. I wept over the book more than once, and found myself holding my breath quite often during scenes of intense emotional torture and pain. That’s why this book was a horrifying surprise: I loved it, but it still caused me physical pain. It’s almost impossible not to react in this way to the story. It’s the ultimate story of tragedy and loss, and of recovery and strength and new beginnings.

Rating: 10/10

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Date of Publication: 1996

Number of Pages: 370

Synopsis (from back cover): Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart – and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed – a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city – a world far stronger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known…

Review: This book starts out at a perfect pace, introducing the reader to the main character’s ordinary life, and swiftly sweeps both the reader and this ordinary man into a dark reality from which there is no escape. By the end of the book, I had a real affection for the bewildered Richard, and for his friends in London below: the curiously powerful Door, the conniving marquis de Carabas, and even the single-minded bodyguard, Hunter. It’s easy to become concerned in their fates, and they are all unique and likeable characters, each in their own ways.

This story is easy to relate to, as it follows a familiar plot: average person gets swept up in mysterious goings-on, meets allies, they have a quest to follow, with powerful enemies popping up now and then to interfere…or worse. This doesn’t mean that the story is stale. Indeed, it constantly surprised me with its twists and turns, and its utter originality. But what makes the story familiar makes it comfortable; otherwise, the alien world in which Richard finds himself would be too cold and unknowable. Richard, being from London Above, gives the story its dose of reality, which of course makes the book all that more unnerving.

All fans of fantasy and modern thrillers will enjoy this book. This is the first book of Gaiman’s that I’ve tried, and I’m looking forward to reading more!

Rating: 9/10

The Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Date of Publication: 1995

Synopsis: “A monster on the loose in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History provides the hook for this high-concept, high-energy thriller. A statue of the mad god Mbwun, a monstrous mix of man and reptile, was discovered by a Museum expedition to South America in 1987. Now, it is about to become part of the new Superstition Exhibition at the museum (here renamed the “New York Museum of Natural History”). But as the exhibition’s opening night approaches, the museum may have to be shut down due to a series of savage murders that seem to be the work of a maniac-or a living version of Mbwun. When the museum’s director pulls strings to ensure that the gala affair takes place, it’s up to a small band of believers, led by graduate student Margo Green, her controversial adviser and an FBI agent who investigated similar killings in New Orleans, to stop the monster-if the culprit is indeed a monster-from going on a rampage. Less horror then action-adventure, the narrative builds to a superbly exciting climax, and then offers a final twist to boot. With its close-up view of museum life and politics, plausible scientific background, sharply drawn characters and a plot line that’s blissfully free of gratuitous romance, this well-crafted novel offers first-rate thrills and chills.” -Publishers Weekly

Review: This intensely exciting thriller is the beginning of Preston’s and Child’s series featuring FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast, the tall, ghostly-pale Southern gentleman who is half MacGyver half Oxford professor. Pendergast is one of the best characters I’ve ever read, and certainly the best law enforcement character. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the other characters either, especially the sardonic New York cop, Vincent D’Agosta and the tenacious grad student, Margo Green, who join Pendergast in his search for the truth. The premise of the book is not only breathtakingly frightening, but also breathtakingly believable. I gladly return to this book again and again, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the authors’ continuation of these characters in the rest of the series.

Rating: 10/10

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Date of Publication: 1995, Alfred A. Knopf

Number of Pages: 393

Synopsis: It is now six years since the secret disaster at Jurassic Park, six years since that extraordinary dream of science and imagination came to a crashing end – the dinosaurs destroyed, the park dismantled, the island indefinitely closed to the public. There are rumors that something has survived. ~Blurb from inside over

This book is the triumphant return of Ian Malcolm, who was rumored to be dead after his ill-fated trip to Jurassic Park. He hears stories about dead dinosaurs washing up on the Costa Rican beaches, and is determined to find the cause. He is joined by his nemesis and colleague, the brilliant paleontologist Richard Levine, Levine’s two eager students, his one-time girlfriend and animal behaviorist Sarah Harding, and two equipment experts, Doc Thorne and Eddie Carr. Their expedition to Isla Sorna, InGen’s secret factory island, is almost an accident in itself. The group must do battle with behaviorally-challenged dinosaurs and survive long enough to get off the island. In the meantime, Malcolm and Levine study the strange behavior of the dinosaurs and attempt to unlock one of the world’s greatest mysteries: what happened to the dinosaurs?

Review: I loved this book even more than its prequel, Jurassic Park. The movie disappointed me tremendously, as the plot and the characters are so completely different, it’s a stretch to give the movie the same name. Many things in particular bugged me, but most of all was the relationship between Malcolm and Sarah Harding as it was portrayed in the movie. In the book, they are no longer lovers, but friends. Malcolm respects Sarah’s knowledge about animal behavior, and her expertise saves their lives many times. When the adult T-Rexes attack the trailers (one of the only things in the book that also happens in the movie), Malcolm falls and re-injures his bad leg, which he originally injured in Jurassic Park. Sarah slings him onto her back, being injured herself, and climbs her way to the top of the trailer and gets them both out, before the trailer falls off the cliff. It’s an incredibly exciting moment in the book, and it’s obvious how much respect Crichton has for this character. Throughout the book, she remains the center of calm and is able to make quick decisions. In the movie, however, it is Malcolm who saves Sarah, his impulsive girlfriend who blindly runs off to the island on her own. It’s disappointing to see the traditional gender roles being forced upon these characters.

As for the book as a whole, it is probably the most interesting I have ever read. It’s not often that I come away from a work a fiction having learned something new about the world. This book, like Jurassic Park, contains many scientific details, but this time they are in the form of fascinating theories about evolution and animal behavior. The pace is frenetic, and the characters are both funny and intelligent. It also has a very satisfying ending, especially for those who have read Jurassic Park. No dinosaurs run amok in an American city in the book; instead the story is suave and smart. I recommend it to anyone who did not enjoy the movie…you will love this book!

Rating: 10/10

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Date of Publication: 1990, Alfred A. Knopf

Number of Pages: 400

Synopsis: An island off Costa Rica will soon be the world’s most ambitious theme park–a dinosaur preserve. A visionary financier’s biotechnology company has succeeded in cloning these extinct reptiles. Fifteen different species, presumably incapable of breeding, are now placidly roaming around, but Jurassic Park’s resident mathematician, an expert in chaos theory, predicts that the animals’ behavior is inherently unstable. When a rival genetics firm attempts to steal frozen dinosaur embryos, things go haywire. Two cute American kids, eight-year-old Lex and 11-year-old Tim, a safari guide from Kenya and a Denver paleontologist set things aright–almost. Crichton (The Andromeda Strain) ingeniously interweaves details of genetic engineering, computer wizardry and current scientific controversy over dinosaurs to fashion a scary, creepy, mesmerizing techno-thriller with teeth. It can be read as a thought-provoking fable about technological hubris and the hazards of bioengineering. ~Amazon.com (includes some corrections)

Review: There is almost no one in America or beyond who has not read this book or seen the movie. Although I loved the movie, the book is far superior. The story contains a lot of scientific details which may intimidate some readers, but as someone with almost no scientific aptitude, I find the story immensely engrossing. The details add an element of credibility, which makes the story more scary. You have a sense that “this could actually happen” as you read, and everything is explained in such a way as to make even the average person understand it. I don’t mean to say that it is dumbed down, because it isn’t. It’s just so interesting that it makes you want to understand.

The dinosaurs are scarier in the book than in the movie. They are also incredibly more complex. Crichton delves into the behavioral patterns and family structures of velociraptors, tyrannosaurus rexes, and other animals we can only see in our dreams. He makes them real, and that makes them terrifying. The book also tells a more intricate story. There are more subtle hints of danger and of dangers still to come.

If anyone out there saw the movie and enjoyed it, but still has not read the book, I highly recommend it. It’s very readable, and remains after 15 years at the top 5 of my favorite books. And believe me – it gets better each time you read it.

Rating: 9.5/10

The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Date of Publication: 2007, Warner Books

Number of Pages: 385

Synopsis:

“FBI Special Agent Pendergast is taking a break from work to take Constance on a whirlwind Grand Tour, hoping to give her closure and a sense of the world that she’s missed. They head to Tibet, where Pendergast intensively trained in martial arts and spiritual studies. At a remote monastery, they learn that a rare and dangerous artifact the monks have been guarding for generations has been mysteriously stolen. As a favor, Pendergast agrees to track and recover the relic. A twisting trail of bloodshed leads Pendergast and Constance to the maiden voyage of the Britannia, the world’s largest and most luxurious ocean liner—and to an Atlantic crossing fraught with terror. ” ~from Amazon.com

Review:

I had been eagerly anticipating this book all year, since I read the last book in the Agent Pendergast series, The Book of the Dead. Although this is obviously not a continuation of the Diogenes trilogy, there are some signs that Diogenes’s evil legacy is alive and well, especially in the fragile character of Constance Greene. She keeps her secret until the very last page of the book, which leaves a very welcome opportunity for another sequel. This book is different from many in this series, as it does not take place in New York City, so many of the regular characters are missing. But, like Still Life With Crows, it remains very much connected to the overall story of Agent Pendergast and stands very well on its own. There is also a further exploration of the mind-bending meditation practices that Pendergast uses, and it becomes the central theme of this book: when you leave your mind open, what evil is allowed to enter? And once it’s there, how can you conquer it?

In the “basics”, this book has intriguing characters, some of whom I hope to see in future novels, and a climax that kept me riveted to each page. The setting on board the Britannia is wonderful and gives an eerie sense of how isolated the characters are. The Wheel of Darkness reads quickly (I read it in two days), which is a shame, because it’s one story you wish would just go on and on. There are many surprises in store, even for readers experiencing the partnership of Preston and Child for the first time. For long-time fans, like myself, this books was a superb introduction to life after Diogenes. The only thing left to do now is wait impatiently for the next one!

Rating: 10/10