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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Update August 2018

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Book Review

August 11, 2018 - August 17, 2018

Dan Fesperman’s ‘Safe Houses’ is superior thriller

 Oline H. Cogdill

In “Safe Houses,” author Dan Fesperman superbly melds a character-strong espionage thriller with a suspenseful mystery that also aligns with the #MeToo movement.

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.

Fesperman supplies 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’

Jeff Ayers

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 another murder.

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.

Cooper’s relentless 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 personalities.

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 more.

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.

Cooper punctuates “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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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Dan Fesperman’s ‘Safe Houses’ is superior thriller

Professor’s life is changed in ‘A Noise Downstairs’

Ellison Cooper’s ‘Caged’punctuated with believable twists


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