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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.