Monday, February 8, 2016

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is the second book in the Red Queen series, following the first book titled Red Queen. This young adult dystopian fiction with elements of magic, paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure and romance is lavishly mounted on a gigantic scale, with thrilling action sequences, some nerve-wracking scenes and quite a few memorable acts. I’m in awe of Victoria Aveyard’s ability to stitch together a plot that not only reinforces the scope and ambition of Red Queen but takes the story forward to a new and higher level.

23174274In this well-written and wonderfully conceived follow-up, Mare Barrow is still unable to come to terms with the treachery that infiltrated her ranks, and she almost paid for it with her life. However, she realized that she must quickly come to grip with the unexpected situation and carry out an almost impossible mission – to save her friends before they are found and destroyed by the King. Mare is also bent on taking revenge for the harsh betrayal she suffered. But it is easier said than done. As the Silver king unleashed his wrath on the Reds, Mare knows that she must act quickly, and act decisively. Only if the Scarlet Guard were on her side, she would stand a chance of winning…

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is a riveting read, and in more ways than one an exhilarating sequel to Red Queen. With a strong female character who is prepared for deathly duels with dangerous enemies as the main protagonist, the story is as electrifying as it can get. Glass Sword is every reader’s fantasy coming true with strong and unforgettable characters, flowing narrative, breath-taking landscape with an array of characters planted to inhabit it and a story that is free-flowing and difficult to forget. While opinions may differ if weighed against the scale with the first book, I can safely conclude that Glass Sword is one thrilling read that you won’t want to miss.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Big Fear by Andrew Case

Practically ripped from recent headlines about police brutality and misconduct, Andrew Case’s debut novel THE BIG FEAR plugs directly into the live wire of current events, taking readers deep inside the world of the men and women who “police the police,” through a heart-pounding story of suspense, police corruption, profiteering and betrayal in the city that never sleeps.

Perhaps one of the most truly authentic NYC-set crime suspense novels ever written, THE BIG FEAR has an unmatched caliber of insider detail drawn from Case’s long and distinguished career as an investigator, spokesman, and policy director at the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board—the influential civilian committee that oversees NYPD misconduct claims. Case’s first hand knowledge of the goings-on in police stations, courtrooms, and lower Manhattan’s corridors of municipal power makes for a truly riveting reading experience.

At age fifty-three, Detective Ralph Mulino has certainly put in his time as a New York City policeman. He’s a good cop, but when he looks at how much the city has changed since he first walked the beat as a raw rookie, he feels increasingly out of place. New Yorkers aren’t fearing the “little” things like muggings, car thefts, and petty robberies the way they did—with very good reason—in the 1980s. To an outside observer, New York is safe now. But somehow the “big” fears are stronger than ever… Fears of buildings falling down. Fears of poison gas filling elevators and subway cars. Fears of bridges—full of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians—collapsing into the East River.
And policing has changed too. In Mulino’s day, it was about busting real criminals and getting them off the streets so the people in your precinct (whose names you knew) would be more secure. Now it’s all about meeting the statistical quotas handed down by some faceless bureaucrat—and as far as the statistics are concerned, a stop is a stop whether the guy is carrying a gun, a joint, or a bag of groceries.

But Mulino is still determined to do his job and do it well. It’s all he knows to do. So when a call rouses him out of bed at 2 A.M. one August night during a sweltering, tense summer, he doesn’t hesitate (even though it’s supposed to be his day off, which seems odd for a moment…). But what seemed to be a routine check of a docked cargo ship soon goes violently awry, and when the chaos settles Mulino sees one of his gunshots has killed another officer… who appeared to be an armed and threatening criminal.

A dead policeman is a big deal, and everyone from newspaper readers to City Hall big shots want answers... and perhaps a quick official conclusion that Mulino was a dirty cop who whacked an inconvenient colleague. It falls to Leonard Mitchell, the new head of the Department to Investigate Misconduct and Corruption (DIMAC) to figure it out. With all eyes on him, Mitchell knows his job likely depends on this case.

Sitting across the interview table from Mulino, Mitchell doesn’t see a careless shooter, and certainly not a cop killer. And there are just too many bizarre questions: Why was an off-duty Mulino called to the scene of the crime? What was the dead officer really doing there? What happened to the gun Mulino saw—was it really there and if so, who took it? And what was on the cargo ship and who did it belong to?

The surprisingly difficult search for answers quickly has Mitchell thinking that there is much more going on than a tabloid-friendly story of a disgruntled, corrupt detective. And when sabotage and more dead bodies start to surround the investigation, Mulino and Mitchell enter an uneasy partnership in a dangerous bid to save not only their careers and perhaps lives, but also the integrity of the city both are sworn to serve.

Q: Was the plot of THE BIG FEAR informed by any specific cases you oversaw while serving at the Civilian Complaint Review Board?
A: While the overarching plot isn't based on any one case, many of the details and incidents of the book are informed by CCRB cases. The first draft of the original shooting was very much based on the case of Ousmane Zongo, who was shot by police officer Bryan Conroy after a chase in a dark storage unit in 2003. Eventually the storage unit became a container ship, and Zongo became another police officer. The case in Mulino's backstory, in which a man dies after being pepper sprayed, is based on a very similar case that I investigated in 1997. I also used to do outreach and press for the CCRB, and much of the interplay between Leonard and Tony Licata has its roots in my work with the tabloid reporters who covered the NYPD.
Q: You’ve written plays in the past but this is your first novel. How did you find the fiction-writing process to be different from writing a dramatic script in terms of character, plot, pacing, etc.?
A: Plays are all dialogue, and the audience watches from the outside. That means that everything about a character has to come through in how she speaks. The plot has to be played out in speech. Writing a book gives you so many more options--you can describe the world, you can go into someone's mind--but it also means you have many more choices to make. In a book, you can't write a weak line and hope the actor will save you. What was most new to me in writing the book was the chance to write from a point of view: seeing the world from inside the character is something that theatre doesn't easily allow. At the same time, I'm so glad I had the experience I had writing for theatre, because you are trained to write crisply, and to always write in a voice. Not only does being a playwright mean I focused on strong dialogue, it also means that even the narrative scenes are written in a voice. There is never a dull neutral narrator simply walking you through the action.

Q: Leonard Mitchell’s job seems to be similar to yours at the CCRB. Is the character of Leonard based on you to any extent? What about the characters of Ralph Mulino and Christine Davenport?
A: There are models for all the characters, but as I went through many drafts of the novel they all moved away from who they were based on and became themselves. Originally, Leonard was very much like me: he had my background, he had my family life, he had my job. But the more I worked on the book, the more he grew to serve the novel, rather than my image of myself. His ambition to be seen by the mayor's side after breaking a big case is something that some people at the agency had, but it wasn't my focus. I did outreach to tenants at the Ebbets Field apartments, but I never lived there. At the same time, some of my personal history started creeping into other characters: Christine Davenport's family life is more like mine than it is like the woman who ran the CCRB when I was there. And while there are a few cops whose character traits found their way into Mulino, he probably changed the most over the course of the revisions, and in many ways I have become more fond of him, and identify more with him, than anyone else.

Q: Many who read this book are likely also going to be very interested in the many real-life instances of police misconduct occurring today, and the ways those cases are handled. What, if anything, do you hope your readers learn about how this process really works from THE BIG FEAR?
A: Investigating police misconduct was the most challenging, most rewarding, and most exciting job I ever had—on most days more than writing novels. I'm really heartened that the issues I devoted much of my career to are talked about so much more than they were ten years ago.

When I spoke to the community council after Timothy Stansbury was shot, there was not nearly the interest that there is now in the many cases that have been in the news. But one thing that I think people who have started following the issue of police misconduct over the past two years may miss is that the people who have been in the field for a long time are working their hardest on very challenging cases. There seems to be a meme nowadays that the people who investigate the police are compromised or challenged or biased. I never saw that. Flo Finkle, who prosecuted the "dirty thirty" cops in Harlem and ran the CCRB when I worked there, is incredibly driven and devoted to justice. Phil Eure, who ran the DC oversigh agency and is now the NYPD's inspector general, Kelvyn Anderson, who runs the equivalent in Philadelphia, or Richard Rosenthal, who investigated the police in Denver and Portland, are tough people doing a tough job. The reason these investigations don't always turn out the way people want is that they are usually incredibly complicated, very dense, and filled with competing narratives. So I hope that people come away, in some part, with a respect for the hard work done by the people who investigated police conduct.

Q: The massive changes in New York City over the past thirty years are an important part of your novel. Do you think that, on the whole, the city is better or worse off now than it was when Ralph Mulino was starting to work the beat? Do you foresee the trends towards less crime and higher costs of living continuing?
A: In 1995, I worked at a theatre on 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Every day I would walk past the porn theatres on my way in to work. That was also the year that Times Square underwent its sudden, wrenching, change. During the two months or so that the porn houses were shut down but before they had been rehabbed to house Disney productions, the marquees all sported poems. Weird, three-line odes and haikus. I saw Fiona Shaw perform The Waste Land, directed by Deborah Warner, in one of those theatres before renovation. It was the purest marriage of setting and content I have ever seen on stage.

So in many ways, I miss the old New York. I am just barely old enough to remember it. I feel bad for people who didn't have the chance to see it, to walk through a city that had truly wild places, rather than places that merely performed wildness. But I also recognize the importance of safety: I have two kids, and where I live in Brooklyn was not a great place to raise two kids in 1995. So I'm torn, because I love both New Yorks, in their way. I love the mess and the carnival that we used to have, and I love being able to get on a subway with my six-year old and not have to worry for a moment about her safety.

As for crime and the cost of living, I think that we have been sold a false narrative that the two are related. Safety doesn't have to be expensive. It's great that crime is down, but the fact that it costs so much to live in the city is crime of a different sort. The reasons that real estate costs have spiraled out of control are a story for another time.

Q: What are your plans for your next book? Will we see Ralph Mulino and/or Leonard Mitchell again or are you working on something completely different?
A: I am deep into a sequel, in which we will see both Mulino and Leonard again, and not only them. And it's funny you should bring it up just after talking about real estate, because the new book is an exploration of the dark side of development, with Leonard and Mulino teamed up to investigate what looks at first like a construction accident, but turns out to be so much more.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Long Shadow by David Reynolds

18427593With the centenary of the First World War, a global war concentrated in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918, fast approaching, there seems to be a deluge of books and memoirs about war. One truly outstanding and extraordinary book which takes an insightful look at the impact of the Great War, gives a detailed account of what happened during and after the war, and which makes for a mesmerizing reading is The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds.

Author David Reynolds needs no introduction. He is one of the finest & leading historians writing in English today, a professor of International history at Cambridge University historian and winner of the Wolfson Prize for his 2005 monumental work In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War.

The Long Shadow scans the indelible bearing The Great War had on the cultural and political landscape of five combatant nations – Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France and the United States. Taking a very British view of the issue, the author also explores the impact The Great War had on The British Empire and Commonwealth Countries. While the subject in itself is vast, the book is not voluminous as the author has a clear defined goal of what to bring to the reader’s attention. Divided into two parts – Legacies and Refractions, the first part of the book Legacies contained six chapters - Nations, Democracy, Empire, Capitalism, Civilization and Peace. The second part of the book, Refractions, consists of Again, Evil, Generations, Tommies and Remembrance.

Full of facts, figures, information, insights, illustrations, and useful references, David Reynolds in writing The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century has set a bench-mark for all future works on this particular subject.

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

18144171The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly is the twelfth book in the lethal private detective Charlie Parker series, and comes after a long wait of more than two years since the release of the last book, The Wrath of Angels. The Charlie Parker series has come a long way since the publication in 1999 of Every Dead Thing, the first book in the series. Both lyrical and terrifying, the series follows Charlie Parker, a former detective with the New York Police Department, now a private eye, as he is on the trail of a serial killer known as ‘The Collector’ who is responsible for the brutal murders of his wife and young daughter. Though it is a cold case, Parker is determined to track down the killer and bring him to justice.

In The Wolf in Winter, John Connolly who is an extremely gifted author crafted a compelling plot that revolves around the death of a homeless man who is keen to find his missing daughter. As Jude was found hanged, the local police termed it as suicide but a close friend is far from convinced. He tracked down Parker and persuaded him to investigate. The trail of the dead homeless man led Parker to the small, closed and secretive town of Prosperous in Maine where he stumbled upon secrets that the townsfolk have zealously guarded for long. Can Parker uncover the whole truth or pay the ultimate price for his misadventure?

Author John Connolly’s characterization and compelling plot aided by his masterful writing allows the reader to embark on an epic journey of suspense, mystery and crime with elements of the supernatural which borders on the edge of horror. It is a mishmash of fantasy and thriller, a real page-turner that will delight long-time fans of the series. Unlike many other long-running series, the Charlie Parker series is showing no sign of is meandering and continues to be as sharp as ever. Absolutely mesmerizing and suspenseful, The Wolf in Winter is destined to be a bestseller.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

20881071The maverick Los Angeles Police Department homicide Detective Harry Bosch has come a long way since he first made his appearance in the 1992 detective mystery thriller, The Black Echo. In that premier book of the series a man found in the drainpipe at Mulholland Dam was just another statistic for the police department. But when Harry Bosch stepped in it became personal because the murdered man was a fellow Vietnam "tunnel rat" who had fought side by side with him in a hellish underground war.

Twenty-two years later in his nineteenth avatar in Edgar-winner Michael Connelly’s superbly crafted The Burning Room, Harry Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with an unenviable job of solving a very old case with a lot of twists and impediments. It concerns a case which begins almost ten years earlier with the drive-by shooting of Orlando Merced as he played with his band in Los Angeles's Mariachi Plaza. The bullet that struck him in the spine caused grievous damage leaving him paralyzed.

When Bosch and Lucy get to work they are confronted with lack of evidence which make the investigation all the more difficult. They got a vital lead when an anonymous tipster informed Detective Lucia Soto that the shooting of Orlando Merced is connected to the 1993 devastating fire which took place at the Bonnie Brae apartments that killed nine victims, mostly children. Incidentally, Soto could have been one of the children consumed by that raging fire twenty years ago but survived while some of his friends didn’t. The mariachi musician was a victim of a conspiracy to bury the truth behind the arson as he was believed to have known the people involved. Bosch and Lucy also unearthed connections between the two incidents with the robbery of an EZ Bank.

With powerful people coming into the picture, master storyteller Michael Connelly skillfully maneuvered this compelling police procedural with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Juggling between suspense, crime and mystery, there is no dull moment as Harry Bosch just simply refused to fade into oblivion and reinvented himself through the deft handling of his character by Connelly. Beautifully written and wonderfully paced, The Burning Room is not only for die-hard fans of the series but also for new readers who want to explore the world of Harry Bosch.