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Friday, June 15, 2018

Illegal Holdings: UN Investigator Fights Corporate Plot In Mozambique

I  once took a MOOC  (Massive Open Online Course) on the Hague's international courts.  So I know that there is investigation of international crime.  I didn't know anything about U.N. investigation of fraudulent misuse of U.N. funds. It certainly makes sense that they would investigate if they received a report of possible fraud.  A brief search confirmed that there are such investigators.

Author Michael Niemann has been writing a thriller series about the cases of  fictional U.N. fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen.  Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Illegal Holdings, the third novel in this series which takes place in Mozambique.  This sounded like an unusual focus for a thriller, so I accepted a free copy from the publisher via Wiley Saichek.

                       

Vermeulen had been sent to Mozambique to determine whether a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) had fraudulently misappropriated $5 million of the U.N.'s funds.  This sounds like a routine case that is unlikely to generate much suspense.  Yet someone who has committed $5 million worth of fraud would be willing to do some pretty awful things to cover his or her tracks.

There  also turns out to be some underlying motivations for the fraud that involve agricultural and land use policy which are controversial and have tremendous impact.   Which is the best way to feed the world?  Should farming be family based and small scale with a large variety of crops, or should farms be large industrial single crop operations?  What happens when large corporations who are mainly concerned with their bottom line are pitted against the interests of local communities?  This is the central conflict in Illegal Holdings.

I admired Vermeulen for his commitment to justice and his willingness to take risks on behalf of marginalized people who need someone to advocate for them.   I also very much liked his relationship with investigative journalist Tessa Bishonga whose work overlapped with Vermeulen's and helped to bring about a successful resolution of the case.


Since I believe that the issues that Vermeulen faces in Illegal Holdings are crucial ones that will decide the future of humanity as a whole, I was very much invested in this story line.   I considered the underlying conspiracy behind these events completely believable and extremely chilling.   Michael Niemann has written an immensely powerful thriller.  I can't imagine what he'll do for an encore in his next Vermeulen book.

                           

                              

                         

Friday, June 8, 2018

The White Mirror (Li Du #2) --Review of Mystery in 18th Century Tibet Plus Giveaway

So I said at the beginning of this year that I probably wasn't going to hold a giveaway, but I decided that I wanted to commemorate the 200th post on this blog.  It seemed appropriate somehow to do a giveaway of the second book of the Li Du series by Elsa Hart since my first giveaway was a copy of her first Li Du novel, Jade Dragon Mountain. See that review and giveaway here. Scroll down below my review to find out how to enter this giveaway and win the hardcover copy.

The copy I am giving away comes from the F2F mystery group that I attend.  The facilitator of that group receives many more review copies from publishers than she has the time to review.  So members get the opportunity to claim review copies for themselves.

A digital ARC of City of Ink (Li Du #3) recently arrived on my Kindle as a result of a review request from the publisher who sent it to me via Net Galley.  So I prioritized The White Mirror in order to catch up on the series.  I should have reviewed it some time ago, but late is certainly better than never.

                           


Tibet is a setting that particularly interests me.  I have read a number of Eliot Pattison's  Inspector Shan series which take place in contemporary occupied Tibet.  I have never read any book dealing with 18th century Tibet.  So this sets The White Mirror apart.

Before starting this book,  I knew relatively little about the pre-20th century history of Tibet or the history of the Dalai Lama.   Let me say that there were some eye openers in White Mirror.  I wasn't aware that the Fifth Dalai Lama  (1617-1682) was the first to rule all of Tibet.  Elsa Hart portrays a Tibet that was enmired in a ferment of factions.  The young sixth Dalai Lama and his regent had been overthrown by Lhazang Khan also known as  Lha-bzang Khan who had allied himself with China.  See his article on Wikipedia.   Some Tibetans still supported the Dalai Lama, and others supported neither ruler.

Into this chaotic situation comes the protagonist Imperial Librarian Li Du who is traveling to Lhasa with a caravan.   There is an atmosphere of fear and suspicion at the manor where the caravan takes shelter from a storm. As the caravan arrives, an apparent suicide of a visionary painter is discovered.  Li Du becomes convinced that the painter was murdered.  His investigation uncovers more than one secret conspiracy.

I have always been intrigued by the concept that Tibetan Buddhist lamas are tulkus.  What is a tulku?  Each lama is supposed to be a single reincarnated spirit that has been reborn for centuries and must be re-discovered as a child who will then become the next lama.  The process of discovering a tulku is a significant plot element in The White Mirror. 

 I wondered if  the history I discovered in this novel was consistent with the idea that the Dalai Lama is actually one reincarnated individual.   The conquering fifth Dalai Lama was certainly nothing like the pacifistic fourteenth Dalai Lama who holds court in contemporary Dharamsala.  Yet it's at least possible that the fourteenth Dalai Lama is the same individual who has evolved spiritually.  After all, spiritual evolution is supposed to be the goal of reincarnation.  Other readers may reach a different conclusion about tulkus.

I felt that The White Mirror had historical and cultural depth which makes it a solid candidate for one of my best reads of 2018.


                                       GIVEAWAY!

If you want to enter  for the giveaway of a hardback copy of The White Mirror, there are two requirements for entry.  You must fulfill both of them.

 1) You must visibly follow this blog which can be found on the right side of the page.  You will need to have a Google account in order to become a visible follower.

2)You will also need to:
a) either comment on this post telling me what interests you about the book with a contact e-mail.
b)or you can private message me on Goodreads.  In order to do this you must be a Goodreads member.  You can then go to my profile which is at the link I've given and click on More. The first menu item is Message.  Use "White Mirror Giveaway" as your subject and include a contact e-mail.

The last day to enter the giveaway is June 23.  Good luck!

                             




                                













         

                          

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Fairfax Incident: Investigating a Death in Early 1930's New York

My favorite mystery sub-genre is historical mystery, but I haven't had a chance to review any historical crime novel since February when I posted a review of one on Flying High Reviews here .  Now that I think about it, the portrait of  law enforcement corruption in 19th century San Francisco provided in Chinawoman's Chance by James Musgrave, isn't very different from the situation in New York in the early 1930's that I recently saw in The Fairfax Incident by Terrence McCauley. Yet I do need to make a distinction between the harsh lives of 19th century Chinese immigrants described in Musgrave's book, and the glittering privileged lives of the German aristocratic immigrants depicted in McCauley's mystery.

I was asked to review The Fairfax Incident by publicist Wiley Saichek and was provided with a review copy from the publisher via Net Galley.


                       


The PI protagonist Charlie Doherty was very much a part of NYC corruption when he worked for the police.  Mention is made of Teddy Roosevelt's crusade against police corruption in The Fairfax Incident.

This gives me a wonderful pretext for a historical digression. I remembered that Teddy Roosevelt had been a New York Police Commissioner, but it had been many years since I took a class in New York state history as an undergraduate history major.  So I did a search for more information and found a review of a book on the subject called  Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest To Clean Up Sin Loving New York by Richard Zacks.  It was reviewed by Krystal Thomas on the blog of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University here .  Although Roosevelt had been a failure, he made a reputation for himself as a reform minded Republican.  Those who like to remind us that the Republican Party had once been very different tend to use Abraham Lincoln as their example.  My favorite example is Teddy Roosevelt who ran for U.S. President as both a Republican and a Progressive.

Back to Charlie Doherty--He is no paragon of virtue, but he is sympathetic.  His wealthy patron, Van Dorn, who pays all his expenses and brings him clients, considers Doherty a hero because he rescued Van Dorn's son from a kidnapper.  Others might consider him a hero because he fought in WWI as a Marine.  Readers who are fans of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series are familiar with the problem of PTSD resulting from combat in WWI. Doherty is not immune to PTSD.  He experiences an instance of WWI flashbacks during the narrative.

The Fairfax Incident is the first book I've read dealing with the consequences of WWI that is set in the U.S.   The impact of Germany's defeat on German-Americans is central to the plot.  The author doesn't excuse the behavior of many of the German-American characters, but he does explain it.

The novel ends as more of an espionage thriller than a mystery.  Readers will learn whodunit, but there is an ongoing national security crisis involving the events leading up to WWII that is not resolved.   Presumably, there will be a sequel in which Doherty will continue to distinguish himself in service to his country.

I consider  The Fairfax Incident a thought provoking and suspenseful novel.

                         



           


                               

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bum Deal: Lassiter For The Prosecution

The twelfth novel in Paul Levine's Lassiter mysteries, Bum Deal, hasn't been released yet.  I'm reviewing an ARC that I received through the good graces of publicist Wiley Saichek via Net Galley.  I'm glad that I read and reviewed Bum Luck beforehand here--not only because it's an excellent book, but because it gave me some background that's important for fully appreciating the events of Bum Deal.

                               


Our hero Jake Lassiter has been through a great deal in his most recent adventure, Bum Luck.  He was probably feeling unmoored when State Attorney Raymond Pincher proposed that he prosecute a case.  Lassiter has been a defense attorney throughout his legal career, so this is a radical change.  Pincher told Lassiter that he and his entire office of prosecutors were recused from the case.  "Recused" is a legal term that I and many other Americans learned when the U.S. Attorney General recused himself last year.  It means that a lawyer can't be involved in a case because of a conflict.

Bum Deal addresses the ongoing issues of corruption in the justice system and the impact of frequent concussions on the lives of former NFL players like Jake Lassiter.  Yet it also deals with the sometimes problematic quandary of drawing the line between consensual sex and abuse, and how do you prosecute someone for murder when there's no body and no evidence?  I had to sympathize with Lassiter because it looked like a case that was impossible to win had been dumped into his lap at a very vulnerable time in his life.

If you really like plot twists in the mysteries that you read, there are a great number of them in Bum Deal.  I wondered if  this case could come to a satisfying resolution given all the obstacles that were thrown at Lassiter.  So the biggest surprise for me was that things turned out as well as they did.  I felt that justice was served in the end which is what I expect from a mystery.

                        
 


Build Me An Ark--Brenda Peterson Is The Priestess of the Peaceable Kingdom

After reading Brenda Peterson's memoir Build Me An Ark, I have to admit that my enthusiasm for Brenda Peterson is limitless.  I read this book in great gulps because I loved her thinking about animals and her experiences with them.

                             

This isn't a recent book.  Peterson describes situations for some wild animals in the late 20th century.  Their habitat and human relations with wild species have increasingly deteriorated since.    Readers should consider this book a historical account rather than a contemporary one.

Brenda Peterson's father was an employee of the U.S. Forestry Service.   Her early childhood was spent in a wilderness environment.  She encountered wild animals and felt a kinship with them.

Peterson loved the story of Noah's Ark because she interpreted the command to preserve animals to mean that animals had souls that made them worth saving.  As a child she constructed a small ark out of balsa wood and placed miniature plastic animals inside it.  She would sketch the inside of Noah's Ark as "the peaceable kingdom".  This is a utopian idea of interspecies cooperation that is derived from a prophetic Biblical passage (Isaiah 11:6).  It is supposed to happen after the coming of the Jewish messiah.  A famous depiction of "the peaceable kingdom" was painted by artist Edward Hicks in the19th century.  The image of the painting reproduced below is public domain.

                           

Peterson includes a number of striking instances of interspecies cooperation in her memoir. The most notable is probably the research dolphin that warned Peterson's pregnant sister about the health of her baby.  She also mentions a friendship between a Siberian husky and a whale.  These are heartwarming and inspiring.

There are also sad tales like the story of the real Smokey Bear, a cub who was rescued from a forest fire and brought to live in a prison called a zoo in Washington D.C.

Just know that if you love animals and believe in animal rights advocacy, you will want to know about Brenda Peterson.

                           


                               

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bum Luck--My Introduction to the Lassiter Mysteries

Paul Levine has written twelve mysteries focusing on Jake Lassiter.  Bum Luck is the eleventh one.  The twelfth, Bum Deal, will be released next month.  Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Bum Deal, but suggested that I should read Bum Luck beforehand and sent me a free copy. This was the reverse of bum luck.   In fact, I consider it very good luck indeed.

                          

The first thing I noticed was the snappy dialogue.  Up until now my favorite dialogue in mysteries was in the Spenser novels by Robert Parker.  Lassiter's is of a different order.  It's full of pointed criticism of his own profession.

Jake Lassiter is a former linebacker in professional American football who has become a lawyer.  His having been a football player is very relevant to the plot of Bum Luck because this book deals with the tragic impact of  repeated concussions on the lives of many former football players.  Wikipedia has an article on this issue that provides a good introduction to it.  Bum Luck is also centrally concerned with corruption in the justice system.  I've seen the Lassiter series described as light, but this particular novel goes to some very dark places.

I found the characterization of Lassiter complex yet sympathetic.   Although Lassiter had done things he regrets, he seemed to me like a wounded hero which is my favorite type of protagonist. 

I had never seen frequent concussion syndrome as a theme in a novel.  I appreciated the honesty with which Levine approached this subject which lent Bum Luck a kind of raw intensity.

I considered this book both original and well-written.  I very much look forward to the digital ARC of Bum Deal that I've obtained through the good graces of Wiley Saichek via Net Galley.

                         


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3) by Rachel Caine

I've had  a Net Galley copy of Ash and Quill, the third book in the YA Great Library series by Rachel Caine for some time, and now I've been approved by the publisher for the fourth book, Smoke and Iron.  I really apologize.  I should have gotten to it sooner.  I'm trying to read more Net Galleys this year.

This alternate history dystopian series is fascinating to me conceptually.  I've reviewed Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire on this blog at the locations I've hyperlinked.

                         


                                                          
The focus of Ash and Quill is the implementation of a pivotal forbidden technology in  Philadelphia which is a Burner city opposed to the Great Library.  The Burners of this alternate America are trying to evade control by the authoritarians in charge of the Great Library, but leaders of movements that oppose established institutions may also want to consolidate their own power.  We have seen this in our timeline over and over.  The comedian W.C. Fields famously stated a mordant preference for being in Philadelphia.   I assure you that there are no circumstances in which he'd rather be in this Philadelphia.
 
I've seen  Khalila, the Islamic hijabi character, mentioned approvingly in reviews.  Khalila is one of the small group of rebels who are the heroes of this series.  She is one of my favorites too, but I wondered why she is portrayed as standing for prayer at one point in Ash and Quill.   I've usually seen Muslim prayer in the prostration position with the forehead touching the ground.  As a result of a search for this review, I now know that there is a sequence of Islamic prayer postures that apparently usually begins with a calming and centering period of standing.  See this article on islamreligion.com .  So I learned a bit more about Islam due to having read this book.

I enjoyed savoring a few morsels of Burner history.  Benjamin Franklin was a Burner in the Great Library timeline.   For those who know Benjamin Franklin's history as an inventor in our universe,  there is a moment of supreme irony in this book that I appreciated.  The inclusion of Benjamin Franklin caused me to wonder about other historical figures in the context of the Great Library and Burners.  I'd like to see how they fared in Rachel Caine's universe.

Ash and Quill does end on a dramatic cliffhanger, but fortunately I have an ARC of the sequel ready to go on my e-reader.  So our heroes needn't be left dangling for long.  I hope to review Smoke and Iron relatively soon.