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Origin – Dan Brown

Origin by Dan Brown, published by Doubleday 2017 is the fifth and latest book in the Professor Langdon series. And yes, I can’t help but hear Tom Hank’s voice in my ear every time Langdon speaks in this novel… and I hear Penelope Cruz every time Ambra Vidal speaks. In this thrilling adventure Ambra is the director of a museum of modern art Guggenheim Museum in Bilbo Spain, and the future Queen Consort of Spain, being recently engaged to Prince Julian.

the novel deals with issues of science versus religion,  the central and often repeated question in the story.. where did we come from, and where are we going… questions whose answers are central to the three majority religions… and a celebrated atheist scientist is assassinated as he is about to reveal a presentation answering those very questions at a presentation in a Spanish museum of modern art. Now professor Langdon,  who  was a friend and professor of the scientist, and the future queen of Spain who is the museum’s director, really on the run from the assassin nd the place guard. And there is an element of social media that plays a big part in this story and it’s woven in very cleverly. Not to mention Winston,  the scientist’s self created artificial intelligence agent.

The story starts out with the presentation being delivered to a meeting between Edmund and leaders of the three dominant religions, a rabbi, an imam, and a Catholic bishop. Well, after Edmund is killed, the Rabbi, and the Imam are killed as well. Since you can’t have a conspiracy fueled thriller with people being killed, and have the killer be a Muslim. .. that would be Islamophobic; and your protagonist can’t be Jewish as that would be anti-Semitic; so, by due course, the conspiracy has to be seen as being perpetrated by the Catholic bishop. But, since is Dan Brown we’re reading here… all is not as it would seem.

Although the timeframe covered by this novel is tight, only comprising a day or two, that action is layered in such a way that we, the readers are following several different threads. These threads are woven into a tight tapestry. And it covers so many topics that Dan Brown’s protagonist Professor Langdon covering Science, philosophy, theology, art and architecture.

A wonderful installment to the series and well worth the time. I can’t wait to see the movie!

”   Langdon used his heel to scratch some lines on the gravel path between them. “True or false?” he asked.

   Puzzled, Ambra eyed the scratchings – a simple Roman-numeral equation:

          I + XI = X

   One plus eleven is ten? “False,” she said immediately.

   “And can you see any way this could be true?”

   Ambra shook her head “No, your statement is definitely false.”

   Langdon gently reached out and took her hand, guiding her around to where he had been standing. Now, when Ambra glanced down, she saw the markings from Langdon’s vantage point.

   The equation was upside down:

          X = IX + I

   Startled, she glanced up at him.

   “Ten equals nine plus one,” Langdon said with a smile. “Sometimes, all you have to do is shif your perspective to see someone else’s truth.”

A Cold Red Sunrise – Stuart Kaminsky

A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart Kaminsky is the fifth Inspector Rostnikov novel. It was published in 1988 a time of turmoil in the Soviet but not reflected in the macro level of this story. No, this is a basic investigation of the murder of a minor Commissar who was conducting an investigation at the time of his murder. The fact that this assignment was pass to Colonel Snitkonoy’s MVD Unit makes Rostnikov suspicious. But, an assignment is an assignment and its off to the scene of the crime.

In this case, Portnoy Rostnikov and his trusty aide Emil Karpo are on their was to sunny but snowy Siberia. Joining them is an investigator with the Kiev office of the Procurator, He is to learn from the inspector good sound methodology of investigation. But who is really reporting to whom? Who watches the watchers? And in macro political jockeying amongst the myriad of Soviet Investigative services who will be gaining power?

Good, sound methods leading to good sound reports can often be as useful as good sound justice.

Rostnikov’s deep brown eyes met the Wolfhound’s soberly and he nodded in agreement, though he agreed with almost nothing the handsome military figure in front of him had said. Rostnikov had been with the MVD for more than four months. He was certain that his and the Colonel’s views of the criminal mind were not at all similar, partly because Rostnikov did not believe in a criminal mind. There were evil people, true—stupid, selfish, brutish people—even a good number of quite insane people, but few who thought themselves so. Mostly there were people who considered themselves quite decent, quite compassionate, quite reasonable. They got carried away with their emotions, beliefs or assumed needs and broke the law, sometimes quite violently. The only minds that Rostnikov thought might reasonably be identified as criminal belonged to certain kinds of bureaucrats who had the opportunity and desire to engage in ongoing illegal activities.

The Romanov Prophecy – Steve Berry

The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry a stand alone novel by Ballentine Books published in 2004. Its one of those historical fiction novels, a suspense thriller melding fact with fiction with flat-out action and political intrigue. And I’m a sucker for these kinds onf novels when they are done right, and this one is very well done.

Seems our hero, an African-American attorney Miles Lord working for a law firm vetting a candidate for Czar. Yes, after the fall on communism and a series of week democratic governments, a paralyzed political apparatus and a popular referendum has brought about a Czarist Commission to restore the Romanov Monarchy. There are certain criteria a candidate needs to meet, and a cabal of powerbrokers has coalesced around Stefan Baklanov as the future Czar. Unbeknownst to Miles, his boss Taylor Hayes is a member of the cabal. So, when Miles uncovers documents in the Soviet Archives that there may be a current direct descendant of Czar Nicholas, a survivor of the Romanov massacre, a globetrotting race to find the truth begins.

With Miles’s boss keeping tabs, a nasty group of Russians follow Miles and a young Russian woman helping him. They are highly motivated to stop the them in their tracks and make sure that a prophecy of Rasputin never comes to fruition.



   “Recalling again Lenin’s note Alexandria’s message, he decided to see what Pashenko knew.       
“Have you given any more thought to what I showed you yesterday in the archives?”
   The older man grinned. “I understand your worry. What if there is a direct descendant from Nicholas II still alive? Tat would negate every claim from every Romanov, save that one. Surely, Mr. Lord, you cannot believe anyone survived the massacre at Yekaterinburg?”
   “I don’t know what to believe. But, no, if the accounts of the massacre are accurate, no one survived. Still, Lenin seemed to doubt the reports. I mean, there’s no way Yurovsky was going to tell Moscow he was two bodies short.”
   “I agree. Though there is now indisputable evidence that was precisely the case. The bones of Alexie and Anastasia are gone.”

A Fine Red Rain – Stuart M. Kaminsky

A Fine Red Rain by Stuart M. Kaminsky is the fourth novel in the Inspector Rostnikov series written in 1987. I read the kindle edition from Mysteriouspress.com even though I have a copy of the Ivy Books paperback. I just find it easier somehow to take notes on the kindle. I’m starting to get much more comfortable being able to whip it our and read almost anything almost anywhere. Besides, the paperback is starting to show its age a bit.

But this story really highlights Inspector Rostnikov’s deep-set sense of curiosity. While out near the park on a lightly raining morning, investigating a trivial matter as part of his diminished duties, he observes a disturbed drunken individual atop a tall statue. Ranting as some people do, the inspector pays scant attention. Until the man leaps from the statue to his death below. Something within the inspector takes note. Although there is a corpse on the ground, there is a question in the air. Why.

Rostnikov had recently been transferred “on temporary but open-ended duty” to the MVD—the police, uniformed and ununiformed, who directed traffic, faced the public, and were the front line of defense against crime and for maintenance of order. As he reports in for the morning meeting he takes his place with the other senior staff. In going over the day’s assignments he recounts the story of the apparent suicide.

You would think that curiosity would be a central motivator for most of the detectives here in the Moscow that Kaminsky shows us so clearly, but it’s suspicion, a misplaced distrustful emotion amongst the Gray Wolfhound’s senior staff that pervades the unit. They are typical of the suspicion, not curiosity that pervades the police investigative unit. Their suspicion fuels unproductive speculation, where as Rostnikov’s curiosity fuels productive questions… the who, what where… and crucially, the ‘why’ of people and their actions and intentions. Its curiosity that leads Rostnikov to take as his assignment an investigation into an apparently unrelated accidental death of a circus performer.

At a local circus there is a performer, and aerialist who was fallen through an unsecure safety net. Though there is a corpse there on the ground, there is a question lingering in the air. Why. And is it just curious coincidence that the aerialist’s partner just leapt from a statue this morning?

But the ending, the scene of Inspector Rostnikov at Gogol’s statue in the park, the ‘full circle’ as it where, that really had a gut impact on me. I could feel the scene in a tangible way that few writers can achieve.

  “We must have an adequate termination of a greater percentage of our cases, our responsibilities,” said Grigorovich, looking at Rostnikov, who continued to frown at the pad of paper on which he was doodling.

   “Paperwork, evidence, must be more complete, investigations better documented, before we turn each case over to the Procurator’s Office for prosecution or further investigation,” Grigorovich went on.

   “Yes,” Pankov agreed.

   “Comrade Inspector,” the Wolfhound said, snapping the pointing finger of his right hand at Rostnikov. “Your views? You have had time to gather your thoughts. Perhaps your delay this morning was due to your diligence in preparing for this meeting?”

   “This morning,” said Rostnikov slowly, his eyes coming up from the poor copy of Gogol’s statue he was working on, “a man leaped to his death from the new Gogol statue.”

  The silence was long as they waited for Rostnikov to continue. Outside and below them, in the police-dog compound, a German shepherd began to bark and then suddenly went quiet. When it became evident that Rostnikov had no thoughts of continuing, Snitkonoy prodded as he stepped back and tilted his head.

  “And the point of this, Comrade Inspector?”

  Grigorovich and Pankov turned their eyes to Rostnikov, who sighed, shrugged, and looked up.

   “I wondered what would so frighten a man that he would do a thing like that,” Rostnikov mused. “Leap head-first to the pavement. Crush his skull like an overripe tomato.”

Killer Crust – Chris Cavender

Killer Crust by Chris Cavendar is the fifth in a ‘pizza lovers’ cozy mystery series, published by Kensington Books in 2013.  It runs 228 pages, 231 if you include the pizza recipe there at the end. My librarian recommended this as part of their ‘cozy mystery’ awareness campaign. Not wanting to disappoint the enthusiastic book-pusher with the large round glasses and lush auburn curls, I signed up for the scheme. A cozy set in North Carolina about two pizza makes, well, for a New Yorker like me… ya gotta give it a try.

When Laughing Luigi, not his real name, a ready-made pizza crust entrepreneur and all-around #MeToo candidate is poisoned by a slice in a pizza pie palooza our Italian Nona’s, and southern belle sisters are asked to ‘snoop around’ to help solve the mystery. Like most cozies the story is populates with quirky locals, and in the case of this story, competitors from around the Carolinas all converging at a local resort hotel for a weekend pizza cook-off competition.

The mystery part of the story with its means, motive and opportunity, ran by quickly. Collect the clues, interrogate the suspects, make pizzas, nearly get killed by the perpetrator… that al went off well. But what I had a hard time with, was the two main protagonists, Elenore and her sister Maddie.  I really couldn’t get a good grasp of them… I can’t tell if they are supposed to be older women, like Italian Nonas, or maybe they are middle aged women running a pizza shop, by they read, or rather sound like young women. Fun, vivacious, spontaneous bon vi vants… it was a bit disorienting… so, personally in my head I make all the characters twenty-somethings because that how I ‘heard’ the characters… and visualized the unfolding story. And I only had a couple of urges to pick up the phone and call for a pie.

   “What if I asked you to stay on here as a favor to me?” Kevin asked.

   ” Why would you do that?”

   The chief of police took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. “As much as it pains me to admit it, you and Maddy seem to have a knack for finding out thing behind the scenes that I can’t uncover in my official capacity. I’m not asking you to snoop but if you’re here anyway, you could always keep your eyes and ears open for things I might need to know.”

   “Chief, are you asking me to spy on the other competitors for you?” I asked.

    “I am. Do you have a problem with that?”

Death Of A Maid – M.C. Beaton

Death Of A Maid by M.C. Beaton published by Mysterious Press in 2007, is the twenty second novel in the Hamish Macbeth series of cozies set in the highlands of Scotland. This is the first story of the series that I’ve read. My librarian suggested it as they are doing a promotion of the entire ‘cozy mysteries’ sub-genre. This is probably the first cozy that I’ve read where a law enforcement professional is being utilized as the primary detective. The premise for this, that Constable Hamish, though known to be an exceptional sleuth amongst the locals, shuns the departmental spotlight fearing that a promotion to a more formal post as a detective would result in the closing of the local police station in the village of Lochdubh; the station that serves as his home as he is the only Constable there.

The mystery unfold when a cleaning lady is found at the end of a customer’s driveway bludgeoned with her own metal pail. While investigating the quirky clients of this cleaning lady, none of whom are at all upset, and seeing evidence of the maid’s lack of cleaning acumen, Hamish uncovers the truth behind the maid’s relations to her customers… black mail! As Hamish uncovers the secrets hidden in the village, the bodies  start piling up… whose secret is so terrible that its keeper will silence anyone who uncovers it?

The story itself unfolds at a quick pace. The settings are picturesque and described in colorful ways, like the arrival of spring “crawling in on sleepy gusts of wind”. The characters that populate this village are a charm, like the tourist shop keeper Miss Creedy who bakes inedible scones and the Indian businessman Patel who sells them on consignment at his convenience shop unaware of their strong resemblance to rocks.

I’ve seen a couple of reviews that point out that the book is longer than it needs to be with an additional sub-plot played out in the last twenty to thirty pages. I myself wasn’t too put out by it. I can see that it may be padding the story of page or word length, but I really don’t find that too much of a deterrent to enjoying this story. So, I will probably read a couple of the earlier books of this series just to test the waters…  

    To Hamish’s surprise, Tom Morrison, Heather’s ex-husband, answered the door. “Surprised to see me?” he said with a grin. “We’re back together. We’ll be getting married again next month.”

   “That’s grand,” said Hamish, “Is Heather at home?”

   “Come in. I’ll get her.”

   When Heather appeared, she looked happy. Hamish hoped it would not turn out that she had murdered her step-mother in a fit of rage. He suddenly wondered why it was when he had been stalking the professor that the neighbours had all noticed his presence and yet had seen no one at all on the day of Mrs. Gillespie’s murder. Could someone have masqueraded as a postman, or as someone the neighbours would expect to see?

   He realized Heather was looking at him with amusement. “I’ve asked you two times if you want tea or coffee,” she said.

Lust, Money and Murder Book 1 – Mike Wells

Lust, Money and Murder – Mike Wells 2014 from Amazon Digital Services at 130 pages.
It’s very umm narrative. It’s all narration. There is very little dialogue and the style doesn’t show aspects of the characters,  it simply tells you about them in a third person voice that seems as still and lifeless as the story it’s telling.

The tales starts off with a fairly well constructed prologue and I found that to be the most compelling part of this book. The rest of it is a lengthy narrative of Elaine Brogan, her complete life’s story about growing up in a poor neighborhood of Pittsburgh, her father, a construction worker stealing to put her through private school, her brief foray into a modeling school scheme, her father’s subsequent arrest, imprisonment and suicide, her finishing school and going to college for design with the ultimate goal of becoming a secret service agent and avenging her father’s death.

It tells us the story of what it takes to make an special agent and the trials and travails Elaine must overcome to become an agent. Then we follow her to her first posting in Montana. The story continues with a case of sexual harassment and her being reassigned to an office in Bulgaria,  where, low and behold she meets the man of her dreams, her new boss, Nick is so much better than her old boss, so caring, so kind, so handsome. .. and yet the story is so bland. .. is creeps it’s was to a climatic ending that will resolve itself in the next book…

I feel perfectly comfortable waiting for the cliff notes version.

“We’ve got to get you laid, girl,” Ashley said frankly, when Elaine felt comfortable enough to talk openly with her. “What kind of guys do you like?”
“I don’t know,” Elaine said. “Strong, but kind.” Like her father.
“Strong, but kind,” Ashley said. “Hm. That eliminates about ninety-eight percent of the male population. What about looks? Tall, beefy, slim? Blonde, dark? Blue eyes—”
“I don’t know, Ashley. Does it matter? I just need somebody to get the job done.”
Ashley laughed. “Boy, you are jaded.”
Elaine had long given up on the idea that the process of losing her virginity would be a romantic event. It was simply a barrier she wanted to break—both literally and figuratively. She thought it would not only make her feel more comfortable with boys, but would make her feel like she was a complete, fully functioning female.

Alley Girl – Jonathan Craig

Alley Girl – Jonathan Craig from Planetmonk Pulps published in 1954. I read the kindle version.

Ah, a cautionary tale of greed corruption and rank arrogance.  Lieutenant Steve Lambert, we hardly knew ye. This is a typical story of a bad cop running roughshod over the citizens around him. Seems a florist is killed, shot in his apartment, and a former alcoholic is passed out at the screen and taken into custody as a material witness and suspect.  Lieutenant Lambert and his partner Sargent Dave Kimberly catch the case with the only clue to go on is a witness who says he saw a woman flee the apartment after the shot and she ran down an alley. While Dave heads to the station to correct some reports, the lieutenant goes to talk to the suspect’s wife. The newly married Mrs Nolan turns out to be a young blonde bombshell with a body that get Steve’s libido revving. He extorts a roll in the back bedroom promising to spring her husband if she “cooperates”.

An element running through the story is the material witness clause which gives the detectives only 72 hours before they have to charge or release Mr Nolan. So it would seem the Steve’s fun with Mrs Nolan is going to be short-lived unless he can find a way to charge him. And then a man comes forward approaching lieutenant Lambert with an offer of compensation she he not pursue the figure that the witness spotted running into the alley. The lieutenant never met a bribe he didn’t like and five grand would be good, for starters… and he figures he could frame Mr Nolan and keep Mrs Nolan shelling out the “cooperation” for quite a bit longer.

With lieutenant Lambert busy with these to cross purposes, Sargent Kimberly is working the case straight, following up on witness statements reviewing the crime scene, taking notes… with the 72 hours counting down, can Sargent Kimberly find the person who fled down the alley, and how does she impact the fate of Mr Nolan…

The tale is your basic morality play and a decent working story. No bright shining metaphor gems like you would find reading Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, but Steve proves to be a thorough bastard, Dave proves to be a good detective and the story throws you a nice curve ball there near the end.

He followed her through the dining room, watching the lithe swing of her rounded hips beneath the thin fabric of the housecoat. She paused at a half-opened door leading into a bedroom and turned to face him. Her lips were pale now and she spoke as if she had scarcely enough strength to articulate the words. “How do I know you aren’t lying?” she asked. “How do I know you won’t just … just … ”
He smiled at her. “You don’t,” he said. “It’s a gamble, like everything else in this world.” He let the smile grow wider. “But you’re going to be reasonable, Mrs. Nolan. You’ll damn well have to. You’re smart enough to know it’s the only hope Tommy’s got.”
She hesitated a moment more then turned slowly in the direction of the bed. “Let’s get it over with,” she said.

Haunted – James Patterson

Haunted a James Patterson and James O. Born novel from Little Brown and company 2017, 317 pages

One of the Michael Bennet novels. An Irish Catholic detective with the NYPD takes his former partner, Sandy, up on her offer to take his extensive  family on a summer vacation in Maine… but, there’s always a catch. Little does Mike know, this will become a busman’s holiday. And one of the strengths of Patterson’s style is that he knows how to pace a story.

This tightly written adventures starts off with Bennet’s eldest son Shaun arrested for selling drugs. From there Michael tracks down and shoots a young prospective med school  student involved with his son. And after this ‘officer involved shooting’ Mike is encouraged to take a vacation. So, with an offer from a former partner to come up and visit, Mike brings the family to Maine.  With its quiet streets, it’s respect for its police in the forth of July ceremonies, is pleasant neighborly residents, it just seems so idyllic.

But the grass isn’t always greener as Mike finds out when his former partner asks for his help in finding two missing teenagers. The woods are lovely dark and deep… but they also hold there secrets, and when a shallow grave is discovered, and a shoe from one of the missing teens is found, Mike learns that the scourge of drug dealers he though he left back in the city… well, it’s more pervasive than he thought.

   He looked like a cowboy from a 1970s western. Not as dashing as the old-time cowboys, because he had a definite edge to him.
   I took an instant dislike to him when we got out of the car and he said, “Howdy. You have ten seconds to stay your business here.”
   I had to ask, “what happens after ten seconds?”
   “Then somebody’s ass is gonna get kicked.”
   I said, “If that’s the way you want it. But I’m on the tired side, so if you want your ass kicked, you’re going to have to come down to me.”
   It was gratifying to hear my partner laugh at one of my cracks.

The Turn Of The Key – Ruth Ware

Turn Of The Key – Ruth Ware “Full of spellbinding nuance and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.” Quoted from the dust jacket it’s a pretty claim to meet… Scout Press publishing 2019, 336 pages

It has a first person narrative… and the issues of reliability of the person telling you the story is put to question straight away when she tells you where she’s writing from. You see, the novel is not written in chapters, it’s written a a series of lengthy letters. So there really isn’t too many clear points of transition. Which is a bit off-putting as these narratives are a bit lengthy. The book puts itself out there as a ‘suspense’ novel. But as far as suspense goes… we’ll I’ve found the book to be easily put down, and come back to later. But one glaring contradiction in this is the pacing… it’s strange, as I read, the story folds out slowly (part of the reason for being so easily put down) but the timeframe of the story seems abnormally compressed. I’m two thirds of the way through this and she’s only been watching these kids for three days.

Also, there hangs over this story a broken promise. According the the promotion and the blurbs a undertone of surveillance is suppose to be woven into this tale, but I really didn’t see that come up. Although the house is connected to a network that the parents who are away on business can access, they don’t. The mom checks in remotely only twice, when the kids are getting ready for bed… a very normal thing to do… though she does this with her cellphone through the house’s speaker system… I see nothing  overtly ‘surveillance’ about that. Also the husband, Bill doesn’t appear to access the house system at all, when, if the accusation about him is true… he would probably be accessing the cameras.

The story is about a young woman who is looking for a change and finds an opportunity that is… wait for it… too good to be true. And of course it is. The young lady works watching children in a nurse at a daycare facility in London.  While surfing the Internet one day, she comes across a live-in nanny position in Scotland that offers free room and board with an annual salary of over fifty thousand pounds! So, she puts together a ‘mostly true’ resume (CV), and applies for the position. She is selected for an interview and the process goes quite well. She is selected for the position of watching three children, Maddie,  8 Elizabeth, and the infant Petra.

The house in Scotland is a melding of new design and technology,  apps the parents are accomplished architects, an old mansion that they had purchased and have been remodeling. So there is this whole old house with its haunting and the new house with its glitches.  Both of these conditions are gaslight ingredients our poor young nanny who is less ‘perfect’ than she puts herself out to be. And that works it’s way through the novel, the nanny who seems perfect, for a position that seems perfect, for a family that seems perfect, watching children who seem perfect in a house that seems, well, perfect… none of which is true.

   The ghosts wouldn’t like it … I heard it again in Maddie’s reedy little voice and shook my head. Ghosts. How absurd. Just folktales and rumors, and a sad old man, living here after the death of his child.
   It was more for want of anything else to do that I opened up my phone and typed in “Heatherbrea House, child’s death, poison garden.”
   Most of the early results were irrelevant, but as I scrolled down and down, I came at last to a local-interest blog, written by some sort of amateur historian.