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Update February 2019

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Book Review

Jane Harper writes engrossing 3rd novel


Oline H. Cogdill

The three Bright brothers, bonded by blood, history and the vagaries of the Australian outback, are the true lost men of Jane Harper’s engrossing third novel, “The Lost Man.”

“The Lost Man” works as a story about families and also as a tale about surviving in the outback, a “land of extremes where people were either completely fine or they were not.” Certain rules “written in blood” guide life in the Queensland part of Australian — break one and the outback is not just unforgiving, it can be fatal. Here it’s a hardscrabble life, the nearest neighbor may be a three-hour drive away, death from dehydration is a reality and checking in regularly with others is vital.

Oldest brother Nathan Bright is isolated even more than the norm, banished from the town of Balamara for breaking one of those Australian rules and is semi-estranged from his family. He spends his solitary life tending a dying ranch, waiting for those infrequent visits from his teenage son, Xander. He and youngest brother, Bub, are brought together when the body of middle brother, Cam, is found near the landmark grave of an old stockman, an area icon wrapped up in legend. Cam’s well-stocked vehicle, filled with food and water as it should be, is found miles away from his body. How Cam, so well-seasoned in the ways of Australia, ended up dead forms the crux of “The Lost Man.”

Cam’s death forces Nathan to re-examine his life and how he has thrown himself into the life of a loner. Cam seemed to have it all — an intelligent wife, two daughters and a prosperous farm. He was well liked in ways that Nathan, and to an extent Bub, never could be. But Cam had a dark side that few knew about, as evidenced as secrets begin to spill out.

Solid, believable characters fill “The Lost Man.” But equally important is the exploration of the outback where “too much space” gives way to resentments. Helicopters are used to round up cattle and long-range radios are a necessity in this “perfect sea of nothingness. If someone was looking for oblivion, that was the place to find it.”

Harper’s “The Lost Man” is storytelling at its finest. (AP)

‘Stalker’ by Lars Kepler is a wild ride

Jonathan Elderfield

When the lead detective in a crime novel is introduced as an expert on “serial killers, spree killers, and stalkers,” you know you’re in for a rough ride. And when you read the descriptions of the killings in the early chapters of “Stalker,” you’ll feel like you’re plunging down the first steep descent on a roller coaster — you’ll want to scream with abject terror. The beginning of the new book from husband-and- wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, writing as Lars Kepler, was as gripping as it was disturbing.

Police in the Swedish National Criminal Investigation Department receive a link to a short YouTube video showing a woman in her bedroom, putting on a pair of black tights, filmed secretly from the outside. Soon after, the woman is found murdered, her face mutilated by multiple stab wounds in a horrific attack. When a second video is received, Detective Margot Silverman knows a serial killer is on the loose.

The accounts of the killings are very explicit, written in vivid, sickening detail, and the first chapters felt excessively graphic. Once the hunt for the killer begins in earnest, I was happy to leave the horror of the early murders behind.

Silverman enlists a hypnotist and psychiatrist, Erik Maria Bark, to help unlock the mystery, and Detective Joona Linna (from previous Lars Kepler novels) returns to play a starring role. Bark tries to discover clues to the killer’s identity by hypnotizing a brain-damaged ex-priest who had been imprisoned for a crime similar in nature to the newest stalker-video-murders. Bark scours the broken memories of the ex-priest, wondering if he had an accomplice or if he didn’t in fact commit the earlier crime and the killer has been on the loose the entire time.

As “Stalker” unfolds, you’ll encounter false leads, angry thugs, a drug den, closely kept secrets, jealous co-workers and improbable escapes. It’s a wild ride as the killer hunts for victims and the police pursue the stalker.

The fast-paced chapters and devious plot twists left me hypnotized and eager to find the stalker’s identity. Now, I might just want to be hypnotized to have the images of the murders purged from my memory. (AP)

‘Out of the Dark’ is a great thriller

Jeff Ayers
Evan Smoak was trained to be Orphan X, and his first assignment over 20 years ago seemed to be successful. Now the other elite team members of that mission have been eliminated one by one. Evan investigates and realizes that the man who started the Program that turned him into an assassin is cleaning up and having the other orphans killed as well. Rather than wait for the inevitable, he decides to go on the defensive and take out the man who started the orphan Program. Why is his former superior now taking out these operatives? Nonetheless, it will take more than meticulous planning and skill to succeed, since this man is the most heavily guarded person in the world: the president of the United States.

The president knows he has to fight back, so he pulls his very first recruit, Orphan A, out of a federal penitentiary. Orphan A has no moral values, and his first job is to murder all potential witnesses before he kills Orphan X. With the help of two fellow inmates who find pleasure in inflicting pain on others, Orphan A knows exactly how to get Orphan X once and for all.

Evan always tries to do the right thing, and he goes out of his way to help others who are dealing with insurmountable odds. He usually levels the playing field by his skill set, but this time he might be outmatched.

“Out of the Dark” by Gregg Hurwitz takes the reader on a journey that covers a wide range of emotions from potential love to outright terror. The relentless action and detailed mission planning make the tale both clever and smart. Hurwitz continues to profile this stellar character and improve with each new installment. It’s only the end of January, but this novel will be remembered as one of the best thrillers of the year. (AP)

‘Nowhere Child’ is Christian White’s stunning debut

Oline H. Cogdill

A young woman’s fond memories of her happy childhood and loving parents are turned upside down when she learns she may have been kidnapped more than 28 years ago in “The Nowhere Child,” a stunning debut by Christian White.

The perceptive plot of “The Nowhere Child” works well as a story about the extremes that one will go to protect loved ones as well as a tale about what makes a family. White skillfully creates a credible story filled with surprises and realistic characters worth caring about.

Kim Leamy has a quiet life teaching photography at a school in Melbourne, Australia. Her loving mother, Carol, recently died but she has a solid relationship with her supportive stepfather, Dean. While she isn’t as close to her half-sister Amy, she knows she can always count on her.

Kim’s life changes when she is approached by an American, James Finn, who tells her that she may be Sammy Went, who was kidnapped from her home in Kentucky when she was 2. Kim doesn’t believe him. She has her birth certificate and her family has always lived in Australia.

Not only does James have reams of paperwork, he also has a DNA sample that he surreptitiously took from her that definitely proves that Kim is Sammy, and that he is her brother. Kim finds it hard to believe that the warm, happy home in which she was raised was the result of a crime. She agrees to go to Kentucky with James to find out what could have happened.

White seamlessly moves “The Nowhere Child” from the present, as Kim tries to piece together a lifetime of lies, back to the incidents 28 years ago that may have led to an abduction.

White shows life in a small Kentucky town, the Went family divided by religious fanaticism and a spiritual leader who encourages snake handling without deriding small towns or religion. Despite the evidence that James presents, suspense mounts as the plot explores the decades-old secrets that the Went family held close.

The appealing Kim’s confusion over whether to doubt her childhood or accept this new dysfunctional family adds to the tension in “The Nowhere Child.” (AP)


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Jane Harper writes engrossing 3rd novel

‘Stalker’ by Lars Kepler is a wild ride

‘Out of the Dark’ is a great thriller

‘Nowhere Child’ is Christian White’s stunning debut