Thursday, March 21, 2013


Six years ago, Jake Fisher watched the love of his life marry another man. When he sees the husband's name on an obituary notice at the college where he teaches, Jake talks himself into going to the funeral. There, he sees the man's family -- but the children are a lot older than six, and the grieving widow is not his lost love. Jake starts out just wanting to find Natalie, the woman he met six years ago, but finds himself in the middle of an incomprehensible mix of gangsters, police and other people who seem to remember neither Natalie nor Jake himself.

And the reader may start out curious about what really happened to Natalie or why no one in the town where they met acknowledges Jake, but he or she soon finds an incomprehensible mix of gangsters, police, ludicrous coincidences and an even more ludicrous plot -- with at least one gaping hole. Harlan Coben's strength has always been his ability to tell a story cleanly and with a witty narrative voice, but during the heyday of his Myron Bolitar series he used that strength in service to realistic, if somewhat colorful, storytelling and characters. In his recent stand-alone novels and even in a couple of the later Bolitar books, he's bid realism goodbye in favor of outlandish plots for which his authorial voice can't convince you to suspend disbelief. You may figure you'll buy the out-there premise, but then you find the ridiculously contrived coincidences that are a part of the deal and you have to start to wonder whether or not you want to keep buying tickets on this ride, no matter how enjoyable it's been in the past.
Robert Crais has been best known for his series of novels with private detective Elvis Cole, branching out now and again with some stories of Cole's mysterious partner, Joe Pike. But he's also done some standalone work, such as the story of wounded LAPD officer Scott James and former miltary working dog Maggie, Suspect.

Scott was wounded in a shootout that killed his partner, and he's not fully recovered mentally or physically. Transferred to training with the K-9 department, he meets Maggie. She was wounded and her handler killed in a roadside attack in Afghanistan, and she also is not fully recovered. Both are, in the eyes of the department leaders, "suspect" in terms of their ability to do their jobs. But Scott must learn to work with Maggie and help train her into being able to handle the new stress of being a police dog if he wants to help catch the criminal gang that wounded him and killed his partner.

Crais tells part of the story from Maggie's point of view, relating events from what he imagines would be a dog's perspective. It's a neat device and it helps liven up a pretty by-the-book crime tale. Although sometimes some of the details of the crime get confusing and there's no shortage of standard cop novel scenes, Maggie's perspective and Crais's deft hand with dialogue and narrative keep them fresh enough to sustain interest through story's end.
At first, Thomas Perry might not seem like the best collaborator for bestselling writer Clive Cussler to continue his series about husband-and-wife adventurers  Sam and Remi Fargo. Perry is best known for his mysteries, while Cussler's arena has been the adventure thriller. The three previous Fargo adventures, co-written with Grant Blackwood, haven't had much of a mystery to them.

But in The Tombs, the Fargos are on a continent-wide hunt for the final resting place of Attila the Hun, who was reportedly buried with an astounding amount of ancient treasure. Clues at different sites lead them to crisscross the places in Europe where Attila roamed, meaning this edition is much more of a solve-the-mystery tale than the previous Fargo stories, and that makes Perry a pretty good fit for this one. The characters remain paper-thin crosses between Indiana Jones and Nick and Nora Charles, but Perry's experience in helping the reader follow clues to solve a mystery keeps The Tombs moving along nicely. He drops in enjoyable details historical, archaeological and geographical along the way, giving The Tombs a good sense of place as the Fargos try to follow Attila's clues and fend off a greedy Hungarian businessman who thinks himself descended from the ancient king.

Nobody reads a Cussler novel expecting great literature -- or even particularly great pot-boiling -- but he usually delivers a fine story and some diverting hours, watching good guys win with wit, skill, courage and strength and watching bad guys do the only thing bad guys are required to do...lose.

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