Friday, July 29, 2011

#29: Assignment Sorrento Siren by Edward S. Aarons

An American secret agent goes on a torture and murder spree, putting straight-arrow spy Sam Durell hot on his trail in Assignment Sorrento Siren, a brawny novel in the long-running espionage series by Edward S. Aarons.

The secret agent goes rogue largely under the direction of a hardscrabble American woman turned Italian countess (the siren of the title), who ends up swaying multiple men into trying to obtain precious artwork for her.  This makes Durell a little bit more of a private eye than a spy in this entry, which seems to be the case from time to time, despite having an old Communist nemesis trying to kill him and kidnap his long-suffering girlfriend Dee at critical moments.

A top-flight novel in the series, this one from the early 60s and full of rousing action.  One of my favorites to date, despite having picked it up solely for its Italian setting (leading up to a trip to Italy earlier this summer).  I nabbed this one for less than a dollar at a used bookstore in Muncie, Indiana.

Monday, July 25, 2011

#28: The Innocent Man by John Grisham

A washed-up, mentally unstable former pro baseball player ends up framed for an Oklahoma woman's murder in John Grisham's hair-raising nonfiction work The Innocent Man.

I have always liked Grisham but hate to admit that a lot of his books were starting to run together in my mind.  But this non-fiction work you almost couldn't make up, populated with blind and drunk lawyers, bungling judges, treacherous jailhouse snitches, bullying cops, dream confessions, last-minute death-row reprieves, and more, in a  case that spans decades.

What's more, Grisham sets forth and least two other botched cases from the same time period and geographical area during the course of the story that are almost as chilling as the main story.

Long but absolutely compelling from start to finish, The Innocent Man actually made me rethink some of my beliefs about the death penalty.

I listened to the bulk of this on audio book during a long drive back and forth to Chicago, and the time passed quickly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

#27: Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

A deep undercover police informant goes to prison to break up a Polish drug ring, only to get burned by his superiors and have to fight his way out, in Three Seconds, a tough-minded crime drama from Sweden.

Three Seconds is very hard-boiled and well-written and showcases a different voice in crime writing, which is one of the elements I have enjoyed from the recent spate of Scandinavian mysteries that have graced these shores in recent years.  Unlike others, the writing team of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom is less melancholy than some of their counterparts and relies more on burly action.

The down side is that, after a long buildup, the finale relies too heavily on an intricate Rube Goldberg-like sequence of events, coincidences, and lucky breaks that allows the storyline to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

But I was with them most of the way and would recommend this meaty thriller to mystery fans.

I borrowed this from Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Monday, July 11, 2011

#26: The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

After a mission turns tragic, a spy in a top-secret branch called "The Department of Tourism" goes into semi-retirement with his new family; but soon various tightly-woven plots bring him back into the fold in Olen Steinhauer's highly enjoyable espionage thriller The Tourist.

In turns darkly funny but eminently credible, The Tourist harkens back to the best of the genre (most especially one of my favorites, Len Deighton) but the storyline is up to the minute in terms of contemporary threats and political scenarios. 

Steinhauer writes in a very readable, engaging style while remaining suitably complex for the steady reader of thrillers.  Worthwhile right through the final twist.

I would have to say this is one of my favorite novels of the year to date and would recommend it to any general reader.  I checked this out on a whim from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it at a breakneck pace.