Zoo Station journeys to 1939 Berlin

From Soho Crime
From Soho Crime

Zoo Station by David Downing; first published in 2007 by Soho Press Inc.; Kindle price currently $1.99 (USD), paperback edition, list $9.99 (USD). Book 1 of a 6-book series.

Zoo Station introduces John Russell, a journalist whose policy of appeasing the Nazis in 1939 mirrors the policy of the politicians whose attempts to avoid a world war would soon fail.

Russell, a 40-year-old who freelances for newspapers around the world, has lost the youthful idealism that once led him to join the Communist Party, fight fascists in Spain, and write hard news without worrying about whom it might offend. Now, he plays it safe so he can remain in Berlin, where his young son, Paul, lives with his ex-wife and her second husband.

But nothing is safe in Nazi Germany, and Russell soon finds himself caught between his old comrades in Russia, his connections at the British Embassy and the Gestapo. The danger deepens when a fellow journalist enlists Russell’s help, then plunges to his death from the platform at the Zoo Station subway while gathering evidence of a Nazi plan to euthanize German children.

Soho Press provided an advanced reading copy of Zoo Station as part of its reading challenge celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller. Russell’s conflict between compromise and integrity while living under Nazi rule really reflects the conflict that paralyzed the politicians who tried throughout the 1930s. The result is a taut thriller that provides insights to a real struggle, as well as the fictional one.

Russell proves to be an honorable hero, an ordinary man who undertakes the extraordinary when faced with dangerous times in a dangerous place. I’m glad this was only the first book in a series, because I want to read more. If you like espionage thrillers, especially those set in Nazi Germany, I think you will, too.

NOTE: Sis received a complimentary copy of Zoo Station from Soho Press Inc. via NetGalley for her participation in the publisher’s 25th anniversary reading challenge.  Sis is grateful for the opportunity.

Description:  By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent over a decade in Berlin. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as World War II approaches, he faces having to leave his son as well as his girlfriend of several years, a beautiful German starlet. When an acquaintance from his old communist days approaches him to do some work for the Soviets, Russell is reluctant, but he is unable to resist the offer. He becomes involved in other dangerous activities, helping a Jewish family and a determined young American reporter. When the British and the Nazis notice his involvement with the Soviets, Russell is dragged into the murky world of warring intelligence services.

Soho Crime has been publishing atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world for the last 25 years. The publisher’s popular series take readers to France, China, England, Laos, Northern Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Denmark, and Palestine, among other locales, with entire range of crime fiction—detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, espionage novels, revenge novels, stories of thieves, assassins, and underworld mob bosses.

Deep Waters swirl into the ’60s

Severn House, U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.
Severn House Publishers Ltd., U.K., in hardcover and Kindle.

Patricia Hall’s Deep Waters pulls London Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant “Flash” Harry Barnard and his girlfriend into the undertow of an old crime that churns up new victims in the Swinging Sixties of London’s East End and its environs.

The story focuses more on Harry than on Kate O’Donnell, his photographer girlfriend, and Hall crafts a complex mystery using Harry’s wartime childhood, his national service during the floods that devastated England’s East Coast in 1953, and his assignment on the CID’s Vice Squad more than a decade later.  I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the previous mysteries in this series, but Hall provides sufficient background and this story stands on its own.

The writing is strong, with a literary style that maintains just the right amount of tension while bringing just enough of the past into the present.  This is no Austin Powers parody, swamping readers with references to cultural icons. Hall tosses out a few references to Lennon and the Beatles, the Kinx, the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black.  She also tosses in a few phrases from Sixties’ slang, like dolly bird, but younger readers and U.S. readers ought to be able to follow along without any real difficulty even if, unlike me, they haven’t previously encountered these.

For me, learning about different places and different times is part of the fun of reading fiction – and I’ve been reading British literature nearly as long as I’ve been reading American literature.  Those who are well-versed in Brit lit won’t find any obstacles.  Those who are not should enjoy the exposure to different spellings and new words.

The ending might disappoint some readers, as Hall doesn’t mop up every single storyline.  It’s no cliffhanger, but neither is it neat and utterly complete.  The crimes are violent – it is, after all, a murder mystery – but the depictions are no real threat to the reader’s sensibilities.  The dialogue does include some of the vulgar words to be heard in London’s East End, both then and now, but Hall doesn’t drown the reader in them.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley, for which she is grateful.  This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.

Deep Waters by Patricia Hall; 208 pp.  Severn House.  Hardcover $28.95 (USD); Kindle  list price $22.91 (USD), pre-order price $14.99. Hardcover available now; Kindle edition scheduled for release 1 July 2016.

Synopsis:  A past crime leads to new murder in the latest O’Donnell mystery

It’s 1964. Detective Sergeant Harry Barnard has been ordered to track down notorious Soho club owner Ray Robertson, who hasn’t been seen for several days. The case takes on a greater urgency when a battered body is discovered at the gym Ray owns. Is Ray the killer … or is he a victim? Photographer Kate O’Donnell works on a feature about the rebuilding of Canvey Island after the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. But as Kate and Harry are about to discover, the Canvey Island floods, the murder and Ray Robertson’s disappearance are connected in more ways than one …

Redemption Road, recommended with reservations

St. Martin's Press
St. Martin’s Press

The road to redemption runs from Hell to Heaven, and Hell is where John Hart’s latest literary thriller begins, in the shadows of sins old and new . . . but whether the road ends in Heaven or merely Purgatory is in the eye, or mind, of the reader.

This is a dark, disturbing thriller. The crimes are brutal. The characters are sick and sadistic, tortured and torturing. The pace is frenetic, from first word to last. The beginning isn’t the beginning but the tangled twist of stories that come together more than 13 years after the first transgression, tying the good and the bad, the innocent and guilty.

From the publisher:  A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother.  A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting.  After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen…This is a town on the brink.  This is Redemption Road.  Brimming with tension, secrets, and betrayal, Redemption Road proves again that John Hart is a master of the literary thriller.

Hart hurls his readers into the deep end of this cesspool of sins as a killer snatches a young girl, a troubled teen sets out for revenge, and a battered cop walks free from prison, and he’ll take them all the way down before he begins to shine light into the utter darkness of lies, betrayals and secrets that bind the victimized and the villains.  At times, I wanted to walk away — but I couldn’t put it down.

Just don’t expect too much good, or too much innocence because even the good can be bad and innocence can be illusive.

Redemption Road isn’t for the meek of spirit. With the 40-hour rape of a teenaged girl, the 18 gunshots that freed her from her captors, the 13-year sentence of a cop convicted of killing a young mother and his torture at the hands of a ruthless warden, to the bodies found on and beneath the altar of an abandoned church, the violence is visceral, perhaps even egregious. What else would you expect from Hell?

John Hart, who debuted with The King of Lies, is the first and only writer to win back-to-back Edgars for Best Novel, for Down River and The Last Child

NOTE: Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from St. Martin’s Press in expectation that she would read and review this novel, yet she was never coerced to write anything other than her own, independent opinion.

Toward Night’s End, a Friday freebie

by M.H. Sargent — highly recommended

Kindle edition free today
Kindle edition free today

This historical novel of Japanese-American honor and patriotism opens on March 30, 1942, with the evacuation of more than 250 Japanese-Americans living on Bainbridge Island, in Puget Sound, Washington. The process had been going smoothly when the Army discovers that a 21-year old Japanese-American fisherman, Matthew Kobata, is missing. During their search for Matthew, two Caucasian men are found murdered on the island. Seattle detective Elroy Johnstone has come to the island to investigate the murders, and evidence leads him to suspect Matthew may be involved. But he is one step behind as Matthew escapes on his fishing boat. With Matthew now emerging as the prime suspect in the murders, the detective’s investigation then takes him to Seattle where another murder has occurred. This time a Japanese-American.

Complicating matters, the coroner finds that both the Japanese-American and one of the Caucasian men have identical tattoos, both on the left ankle. But what do these tattoos mean? And who has killed these three men? Matthew? And if so, why? And most important, where is Matthew? Johnstone’s investigation will take him from Seattle’s Naval Air Station to the Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California, and back to Bainbridge Island. And, although he doesn’t know it, the clock is ticking and a countdown is in place for an event that could result in the unthinkable taking place Toward Night’s End.

A beautiful blend of historical fiction, literary fiction and WWII mystery/thriller . . .

Toward Night’s End is one of those novels that is so well-written that I found it hard to believe it is available free. It would be a bargain at its list price of $2.99, and I’d have happily forked over for a hardbound version if that had been my only choice.  Yet, I downloaded it for free, and it is free again today (but please verify before “buying” as Amazon’s prices are always subject to change without notice).

The novel, based on a true story, is set in the months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and around the forced internment of Japanese immigrants and their Japanese-American children and grandchildren, centering on the family of Matthew Kobata, who disappears in the hours before his family was ordered to leave their home on a Washington island and report for internment at Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

My beautiful mom-by-marriage and her family were interred, forced from their home in Stockton, CA, to end up, eventually, in Arkansas. Her experience — and the experience of my aunts-by-marriage — piqued my interest in this novel, as much, if not more, than my enjoyment of mysteries.

Toward Night’s End is at once a work of literary fiction, a mystery, and a World War II novel. It’s beautifully written, and beautifully told, dwelling on the love of country both of those who chose to be Americans and those whose families have been Americans for more than two generations, as well as the betrayal of country.

M.H. Sargent is also the author of the CIA thriller MP-5 series Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot To Die For, Operation Spider Web, The Yemen Connection and Alliance of Evil.

Click to download Toward Night’s End

The God’s Eye View — but whose god?

TheGodsEyeViewRecommend, with reservations.

The God’s Eye view is a crisp, taut political thriller, somewhat akin to those once written by the late Robert Ludlum or Nelson DeMille, Ken Follet and their brethren. The title is especially appropriate, as those who choose to read the novel will discover as the story unfolds.

The pace is intense, making it a compelling read that is hard to put down, even when one’s eyes are struggling to stay open enough to squint at the print. The storyline is just plausible enough to make readers wonder, could this be happening? Now? To us? And give us all a few shudders at these thoughts.

All the same, I’m recommending it with reservations because some readers will not care for the explicit sexual scenes, the graphic depictions of violence and the seemingly mandatory obscene and profane dialogue now so very common to political thrillers. I’m probably much in the minority for yearning for a more creative use of language, even among characters who very likely do use such words with abandon.

From what I hear from other readers, though, I believe a few readers are getting tired of the characters who ought to be the good guys instead being the bad guys, while the bad guys are either downright evil, loyal to an egregious fault, or redeemed or redeemable by the love of a good woman. I know, I know — so many otherwise intelligent women want to believe it can happen, but why reinforce their fantasies?

For myself, I’m tired of the explicit sex that now seems required of thrillers. I don’t want to inject myself into the sex lives of others, even fictional characters. Worse, so often the writers get it wrong, ascribing very masculine fantasies and reactions to their female characters or ascribing to the men such patience in preparation that would have my husband falling asleep long before anything remotely romantic could actually occur.

Still, I doubt if most of those who like thrillers will mind these things as much as I, and the male readers in particular may quite like the idea of a woman who is ready and willing and able under any and all circumstances. No matter how uncomfortable or how at odds with the laws of physics.

I did mind, and yet I did like the book. The premise is frightening, yet believable. The writing is first-rate. The characters are, for the most part, believeable, with no more exception than is typically found in politically thrillers and well within the willingness of readers to suspend disbelief. I will likely read more by Barry Eisler, I just wouldn’t want to read too many books like this in succession.

NOTE: Sis received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Her opinions are not easily influenced, nor have any attempts been made to do so. Her advice? Don’t even try.

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