Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Reviews-Requiem for a Glass Heart, The Cleanup, Legends of Light

Requiem for a Glass Heart
By David Lindsey
Requiem For a Glass Heart is a book I took to read at the barbershop, anticipating a long wait. Fortunately, however the wait wasn't that long and even more fortuitously Requiem For a Glass Heart was actually a pretty entertaining book. It kept me eagerly turning pages to see what happened next. Now that I have finished I suppose I could look back and say I should have seen certain things coming but then again there is a reason that authors often rely on certain tropes. They work. David Lindsey puts his own twist on a La Femme Nikita type story. He also uses two primary female protagonists. This is a little unusual for the thriller genre. The men are not the heroes. Not being a woman I can't say the leads were perfectly written but they didn't strike me as cartoon cutouts either. There are a few male characters who are a bit over the top, including an updated Fu Manchu stereotype, but if you can look past some of that it's not a bad little story.
I think some of it will seem familiar to you but again the author obviously did his research and was talented enough to breathe new life into a thriller/suspense novel format. It's set in the mid nineties, shortly after the chaos of the Soviet Union's disintegration. It's very descriptive of the cities and hotels in which the action takes place.

A devastatingly beautiful Russian woman, Irina Ismaylova, performs assignments across Europe for her boss, Sergei Krupatin. Sergei, who Irina often describes as Satan, is the enormously arrogant, self-satisfied and completely pitiless boss of a Chechen Mafiya organization. In short time he has risen to become not only infamous within Russia and the former Soviet Republics but worldwide, with operations across Europe, South America and the United States. Sergei doesn't tolerate mistakes or disloyalty. To cross him is to guarantee death not only for you and your entire family but also for your friends and associates.
Sergei and Irina have a history together. He has corrupted her into becoming a "special" of his. Her assignments include murdering people that either Sergei can't reach or would prefer that his organization not be implicated in killing. Irina's looks will make just about any man and not a few women lower their guard. To the deeply cynical Sergei this makes her the perfect assassin. He enjoys forcing people, especially women, to do things against their will. But Irina is growing weary of Sergei's sadism and her own moral loss. She wants out. Sergei has one last assignment for Irina, one which she dare not refuse.

In the US, a FBI undercover agent named Cate Cuevas finds out that not only was her husband, a DEA undercover agent infiltrating the Sicilian Mafia, murdered, but also that he was evidently killed either by or in the company of a beautiful mystery woman. His fellow agents knew of his philandering ways but kept silent about his infidelities. While Cate is processing this betrayal, the FBI and DEA get word from Russian and German intelligence that Krupatin is up to something big. He may change his normal pattern of deep cover and visit the US with Irina. Cate's bosses know that Irina is a courier for Sergei. They have a mole in Sergei's organization and think they can leverage that man to get Cate close to Irina. Through Cate they hope to get intel on Sergei and disrupt his plans. What could possibly go wrong?
The Sicilian Mafia and Chinese Triads are involved. Except for Sergei, most other male characters aren't very strongly drawn but that's okay since many of them are only seen through Irina's or Cate's perspective. Male sexuality is often portrayed as something dangerous to women but also something that makes men vulnerable to women. It's ironic as Irina is deadlier than any man except for Sergei. The book's title comes from Irina's self-description to Cate. Irina sees herself as both fragile and hard. The hold that Sergei has over Irina is obvious but isn't confirmed until much later. There's a thin line between love and hate. To conclude, if you enjoy well written thrillers with scummy bad guys, morally complicated Natasha Fatale heroines who might be only slightly less bad than the bad guys, and international criminal/intelligence conspiracies with a fair dose of tastefully understated sex, you will like this book.

The Cleanup
by Sean Doolittle
For whatever reason this book didn't quite grab me as much as I thought it would. I may have to go back and re-read it as during at least some of the time I was reading it I was involved in some difficult projects at work. I also may have just temporarily overdosed on noir books. Hmm. Anyway it was a good story but was occasionally a bit hard to follow.

Matthew Worth is an Omaha, Nebraska police officer who is something of a loser. He comes from a long line of police officers-his grandfather, father and deceased brother were hero cops but Matthew is evidently not cut from the same cloth. His ex-wife was cheating on him with a detective. When Matthew confronted the detective, not only did he badly lose the ensuing fight but as hitting superior officers is a no-no Matthew was given the most humiliating assignment his department could think of. This was to guard a low-rent grocery store which has been the target of a few robberies and burglaries. Most nights this means actually bagging groceries or even sweeping up while he's in uniform. His fellow officers find this to be greatly amusing and love calling in "emergencies" on the police scanner that involve "cleanup in aisle five" or "gimme a price check on preparation H stat!!".

Matthew tries to make the best of it. As he became a police officer out of a sense of family obligation he doesn't have a whole lot of pride that could be injured by this assignment although he is too stubborn to quit. As a side benefit at least Matthew gets to talk to and occasionally flirt with the fallen angel checkout clerk Gwen, who when she's not being abused by her violent thug boyfriend, actually has a kind word for Matthew.
This all goes belly up one night when Matthew gets a frantic call from Gwen. Tiny little Gwen has just removed her hulking boyfriend from the planet and needs Matthew's help. Immediately Matthew has to make a choice about how he wants to play this and if he is going to place the law over his feelings of affection (both lustful and protective) for Gwen.
The decision that Matthew makes sets in motion an avalanche of activity which gets attention all the way up to the Chicago Outfit, which doesn't get an expected delivery at the promised time. And when the Outfit doesn't get what it wants, people die. Matthew will have to rely on 1) Gwen, who has reserves of strength and cunning unknown to him, 2) the detective who "stole" his wife and beat him up and 3) on his estranged big brother who as an ex-con is the black sheep of their law enforcement family.
One nice technique I liked is that the author lets conversations play out very realistically. People don't always explain every little thing and it can take a while before you realize for example that two supposed "good guys" are considering if they should murder someone. Characters make mistakes, take actions based on wrong assumptions and generally make a mess of things. And even when people try to do the right thing, like when Matthew's ex drops by to tell him that she's pregnant by her new husband, they often end up hurting people emotionally.

Legends of Light
by Ed Wardin
I could have sworn that I reviewed this book before. I really thought I did but a search didn't reveal anything. So if I did apologies, that's what happens as you age. Anyway this is a photographic collection of Michigan lighthouses. I always say that if you die and go to heaven you will be reborn on the cool shores of Lake Superior. Hell is of course being forced to attend an Ohio State University football game over and over again.
I love living in Michigan, especially as summer gives way to fall and winter approaches. Michigan is blessed with The Great Lakes. I would love to retire to a lakeside property some day. The Great Lakes are really more freshwater inland seas. In particular, Lake Superior is well named as it is the largest freshwater lake in the world. There are a lot of interesting facts about Lake Superior. In the days before mass transit and aircraft the Great Lakes served as the commercial highways of the northern US, linking the East Coast and Midwest to the Plains States and the South. In order to help captains navigate and avoid accidents, people built a great number of lighthouses all along the shores of the Great Lakes as well as some of the tributary rivers.
Of course now that everyone and their dog has GPS and other more impressive communication and navigation devices these lighthouses are generally unused. Many of them are actually for sale or are maintained as historical buildings. Some others have fallen into disrepair. Organizations have arisen to keep lighthouses maintained and in good order. There are also programs that allow caretakers and their families to live at lighthouses so long as they repair them and keep them up to code.
This coffee table sized book details in quite lavish and striking pictures the various lighthouses of The Great Lakes, some massive and inspirational, others small and picturesque. The lighthouses are shown at all times of day and night, in various types of weather and during all four seasons. Legends of Light is not only a beautiful homage to some works of architecture and art that will hopefully not be forgotten but also serves as a reminder of the natural beauty that lies all around us if we care to take the time to look. The list price for this book was $39.99 but if you are interested you can find it for much less than that. I believe I paid about $9 for it at a clearance sale and it was money well spent, believe me.
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