August 18, 2018 - August 24, 2018
Solid twists keep plot churning
in ‘Prisoner in the Castle’
Oline H. Cogdill
One pleasure of a
mystery series is connecting with a character that changes and grows
with each novel. Maggie Hope, the heroine of Susan Elia MacNeal’s World
War II novels, is a different woman in this eighth outing, “The Prisoner
in the Castle,” than she was in the 2012 Edgar-nominated debut, “Mr.
Starting as a
typist for Winston Churchill, Maggie has become a full-fledged spy,
working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the hush-hush
organization created by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.” But at the end
of 1942, the spy business turns against special agent Maggie when she is
sent to a former Victorian hunting lodge on the tiny, remote Isle of
Scarra, nicknamed the Forbidden Island, located hundreds of miles from
the mainland of Scotland.
The place is
supposed to be a secret British training center but is really a prison
for top agents whose supervisors worry they could leak vital information
or have weaknesses that could be exploited by the enemy. They can’t
leave — or communicate with the outside world — and none of their
friends or family knows where they are. But the 10 agents hardly feel
like they are in jail as they roam the grounds freely and are served
excellent meals by the three servants who live at the lodge.
But then the agents
— all of whom have been trained to kill — are being murdered, and it is
obvious that one of them is putting to practice his — or her —
parallels to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” are obvious —
there are even several references to that 1939 novel. MacNeal honors
that classic mystery, but does not make “The Prisoner in the Castle” a
copycat novel. As in her other novels, MacNeal puts a fictional spin on
real WWII events. “The Prisoner in the Castle” is based on a similar
facility for at-risk SOE agents.
intelligence and loyalty to the war effort continues to evolve in
MacNeal’s series. Maggie’s confinement at the island is complicated
because her testimony is vital at a serial killer’s upcoming trial in
London. Without her, the killer may go free.
Solid twists keep
the plot of “The Prisoner in the Castle” churning until the surprise
August 11, 2018 - August 17, 2018
‘Safe Houses’ is superior thriller
In “Safe Houses,”
author Dan Fesperman superbly melds a character-strong espionage
thriller with a suspenseful mystery that also aligns with the #MeToo
As a spy thriller,
“Safe Houses” eschews high-tech gadgets to concentrate on the emotional
and physical peril of undercover work. As a mystery, it quickly becomes
a family drama.
The novel moves
seamlessly between West Berlin in 1979 and a small town in Maryland’s
Eastern Shore during 2014 as it explores the life and death of Helen
Abell Shoat. In 1979, Helen Abell is a bright but inexperienced
23-year-old working for the CIA. Like many other women at the CIA during
this period, Helen is relegated to a low-level position where she deals
with sexism and disrespect. She’s taken a menial assignment —
maintaining the upkeep of the four “safe houses” scattered around Berlin
— and made it a vital job. At one of the houses, Helen makes a life-long
enemy of a higher-ranking officer, Kevin Gilley, when she interrupts him
assaulting a young German woman, whose body is found a week later. Helen
launches a clandestine investigation and soon learns that Kevin has a
history of abusing young female agents, secure in the knowledge that
male management will protect him.
In 2014, Helen
Shoat has been living a quiet life on a farm with her husband, Tarrant,
when the couple is shot to death in their sleep. The likely suspect is
their mentally challenged son, Willard. But the couple’s daughter, Anna,
who knows nothing about her mother’s past, doesn’t believe her brother
could commit such a murder.
As the details of
the two eras are revealed, “Safe Houses” soon has multiple meanings. The
safe houses where agents feel free to meet in private are anything but
safe — with hidden tape recorders going — and they definitely aren’t
safe for female agents. Helen’s home was her refuge, but it was also
where she was murdered.
plenty of tense scenes, especially during Helen’s younger years, but his
affinity for character studies is the novel’s driving force. Kevin’s
violence toward women is coupled with the dangerous power he wields as
he moves up in the CIA. While Kevin is a villain, Fesperman never allows
his characterization to go over the top. (AP)
August 4, 2018 - August 10, 2018
Professor’s life is changed in ‘A Noise Downstairs’
Paul Davis is
driving home when he sees his mentor and colleague Kenneth Hoffman
driving erratically. He follows and soon learns that Hoffman has two
dead bodies in his trunk. When Davis confronts him, Hoffman whacks him
in the head with a shovel. The police show up just in time to stop
Over eight months
later, Davis still has issues with his memories and suffers from PTSD.
Hoffman receives a prison sentence and shows no signs of remorse. How
well do you truly know someone? Davis’ wife is forgiving but starts to
show concern that he’s not healing as well as hoped. She finds an old
typewriter and decides to buy it to help cheer up her husband. He has
always wanted one and instantly takes to using it regularly to write his
diary and help him come to terms with what happened.
The madness starts
subtly at first when he begins to hear the typewriter being used in the
middle of the night. He asks his wife, but she doesn’t hear it. There’s
no sign of anyone breaking into the house. Is his imagination working
overtime? Or has his mind snapped?
Elements that are
in play are somewhat visible to savvy thriller readers, and the novel
echoes a classic movie from the 1960s. Proving that author Linwood
Barclay is a master of manipulation, he pulls a genuinely unexpected
twist that throws everything revealed up to that point entirely out the
window. This thriller then kicks into high gear as it becomes a race for
answers and justice. The author has cast this novel with a group of
realistic characters that add to the festivities showcasing a grand
design. Predictable becomes unpredictable in this compelling book that
echoes the best of Harlan Coben. (AP)
July 28, 2018 - August 3, 2018
Ellison Cooper’s ‘Caged’
punctuated with believable twists
Oline H. Cogdill
The FBI’s hunt for a
serial killer fuels Ellison Cooper’s intense debut that introduces FBI
special agent and neuroscientist Sayer Altair.
energetic storytelling elevates “Caged” beyond the typical serial killer
novel as the author weaves in real science to create some unique twists.
Cooper also wisely avoids the overly gruesome details that mar many
serial-killer novels as she makes her story more about people and their
The prickly Sayer makes
a fine heroine for this new series. Sayer usually is the smartest person in
the room, with a complicated background that adds texture to the story. Her
career takes priority as she grapples with the pain of losing loved ones,
leaving her incredibly lonely. Her spur-of-the-moment decision to take home
a little dog found at a crime scene is a start to caring about others once
Sayer would rather be
continuing her research into the brain patterns of murderers, but her
supervisor, FBI Assistant Director Janice Holt, forces her to put that work
on hold to take charge of a high-profile investigation. The body of
ambitious Sen. Charles Van Hurst’s daughter, Gwendolyn, who disappeared a
year ago, has been found locked in a cage in a Washington, D.C., house. The
senator, a potential presidential candidate, tries to hijack the
investigation, holding press conferences and naming suspects who are merely
witnesses. Sayer doesn’t have time to play politics or soothe egos as she
learns another young woman may be held in a different location.
“Caged” with believable twists that take myriad paths as it leads to a
realistic conclusion. She indulges Sayer with a few character cliches — she
has a problem with authority and vows more than once that she will find the
next victim “if it was the last thing she did.” But Cooper also imbues Sayer
with a distinctive voice and a “burning pitch” for justice. Sayer’s
connections to her Senegalese background and her white grandparents on her
mother’s side are deftly woven into the story.
This FBI agent should
provide much fodder for future novels. (AP)
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