REVIEWS FROM JOHN A. BROUSSARD

John's e-mail address is:
broupome@hawaii.rr.com
He has been writing and selling fiction, including novels and short stories, for several years.

Eleven of John's books are now available in Kindle editions via Amazon.com.  Click on John's name below to view selections.     

POSTED DECEMBER 30, 2012

THE LAST RESORT         
LAURENCE GELLER          
Chaucer Press Books   November, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-884092-84-8

There's conspiracy afoot, but it's hard to tell who's behind it. It's even harder to tell what it consists of and, especially, where the fabulous amounts of money behind it are coming from. It all begins with the mysterious "Blenheim Partners" paying a fantastic sum for Kestrel Hotel and Resorts, a very successful and exclusive worldwide chain of palatial hotels. But the new owners seem dedicated to policies which run the entire enterprise into the ground, including the firing of many of the hotel managers and a mysterious disappearance of files. There are fires of dubious origin, flagrant embarrassment of steady and wealthy clients, and even homicides of hotel personnel.

One member of the chain, however - the San Diego Cliffs Resort - falls into a surprisingly lucrative bit of good luck: the acceptance of its bid to host the year's G8 Summit. The Cliff's General Manager, Matt Dirksen, throws himself into the task of preparing for the conference, now only weeks away. The task is made increasingly difficult, however, when his new boss, Dimitri Netski, insists on micromanaging the preparations, redoing much of the hotel's infrastructure, and dismissing top employees, replacing them with others who are thinly disguised spies keeping watch on Dirksen. The former Kestrel CEO, who had been informed of the sale after it happened, seeks help from a variety of agencies, including the Mossad and MI6, to find out what's going on. He also tries to enlist the aid of the CIA, FBI and Secret Service, but with scant success. As layer after layer of Blenheim's real intentions are peeled back, it becomes clear that Russian and Chinese interests are involved and that Netski is a hired gun for whoever the real forces are behind the rapidly unfolding events.

In THE LAST RESORT, Geller has created a tale of international intrigue on a grand scale. Action worthy of James Bond is relatively absent, but there's an intricate web of plots and counterplots, and characters who are seldom what they seem to be.

                                                                                        - John A. Broussard

SILVER CROSS         
B. KENT ANDERSON         
Forge   November, 2012

The government's Research and Investigations Office (RIO) ends up with cases no other department wants. A letter written by Napoleon III, 19th Century emperor of France, is most definitely one of those. But the real reason RIO's deputy director Meg Tolman has become involved is because she had received word that a friend from many years back had been badly injured, was semi-comatose, and was asking for her. Dana Cable died before Meg could reach her bedside, but she had left behind a cryptic message with one of the nurses: "Tell Meg: the rose and the silver cross." The briefest of investigations revealed that two of Dana's brothers had recently died - one in a terrorist attack, the other shortly afterwards as a "suicide" which looks more and more like a homicide. An attempt on Meg's life had convinced her she was on the trail of something far more dangerous than she'd anticipated... and that was even before a mysterious woman had appeared and passed the Napoleon letter along to her, taking off without any further explanation. From there on it's conspiracy and intrigue, some of it involving possible terrorists, some of it pointing toward the French government. And all the clues Meg runs down indicate that a group of hired of assassins are laying down a bloody trail with havoc in its wake.

There's no easy way to outline the complicated plot of SILVER CROSS, other than to say that it has ramifications going back to the Confederacy, it involves persons in the highest echelons of the U.S. Government, and it drives Meg to seek the help of friends in academia, a computer hacker, a retired professor of American History, an ex-Federal marshal, and many others.

Anderson's obvious specialty is the piling of cliff-hanger upon cliff-hanger. Action scenes abound, as do gunfire, car crashes, explosions and dead bodies - all in the best Hollywood tradition.

                                                                                        - John A. Broussard

MANNHEIM REX         
ROBERT POBI         
Thomas & Mercer Trade PBO 11/12
ISBN: 978-1-612184487

What better home for a writer of horror stories than a haunted house on the shores of Lake Culdasac? The lake had long been rumored to contain a monster of some kind: perhaps a gigantic fish; perhaps something far more eerie. Trying to escape demons of his own, newly widowed and suicidal, Gavin Corlie has left New York City behind to take up residence in Mannheim, a small town upstate. In spite of himself and his quest for isolation, Gavin quickly makes two new friends. The first is Laurel, one of the town's few physicians, whom he soon falls in love with. The second is Finn Horn, a 13-year-old wheelchair user who is a victim of spinal cancer with whom Gavin becomes almost as closely bonded. Despite his handicap, Finn is an avid fisherman, and it is his secret ambition to land the monster that infests the lake. Though Gavin doesn't believe Finn's wild-eyed tale of what he had seen, he lets the boy talk him into taking up the search, and a sighting confirms that it wasn't just a youngster's vivid imagination.

In its own way, MANNHEIM REX is the tale of the White Whale brought into the Twenty-First Century. But there's an overlay of mystery, as something else seems to be stalking the small town. Deaths on local back roads and in the lake are never completely explained, yet the cases are closed by Sheriff Pope. Soon Gavin finds himself living in a horror not of his own making.

Pobi is especially talented in the depiction of his major characters. They're all peculiar, but in intriguing ways. Sheriff Pope is a particularly memorable figure, and as lethal a creature as the one lurking in the depths of the lake. Freshwater fishermen will find much to enjoy in this book, but even readers who have never dropped a hook over the side of a boat will find it a suspenseful, well-told tale.

                                                                                        - John A. Broussard

THE FORGOTTEN         
DAVID BALDACCI         
Grand Central Publishing   November, 2012

CID agent and Ex-ranger John Puller, Jr. is a hero of Homeric proportions, skilled in hand-to-hand combat, a deadly marksman, virtually invulnerable to aggression directed against him. He is, of course, also handsome, well over six feet tall, and irresistible to women (though he manages to resist them... most of the time). Now he's ready for some well-deserved R&R after cleaning up criminal activities in West Virginia. His vacation plans come to a screeching halt, however, when his father, who is living in a care facility and slowly slipping into dementia, summons him to his bedside. Retired General John Puller, Sr. is lucid enough to explain that he has received a letter from his octogenarian sister describing mysterious happenings in her home town of Paradise, Florida. So John, Jr. sets out to investigate. On arrival, however, he learns that his aunt has just died, apparently as a result of accidental drowning in her own swimming pool. Needless to say, Puller doesn't go along with the local police's views on the matter, and soon he's embroiled in an investigation which runs afoul not only of the police, but also of Mecho, a giant Bulgarian who has his own axe to grind, the Defense Department (among whose senior brass, sexual improprieties anticipate today's headlines), and at least a couple of mysterious groups who may or may not be on the same side as Puller.

THE FORGOTTEN is an especially satisfying novel if the reader likes to see the bad guys get their comeuppance. Our protagonist takes them on a half-dozen at a time. With help from some hastily recruited allies, he eliminates others by the dozen. In the course of all this mayhem, he uncovers the mystery alluded to in his aunt's letter: the forced immigration into the country of aliens destined for human bondage. Baldacci, without question, is a professional in his trade. The pace is fast, the dialog is equally brisk, the leading man is larger than life, and there's a nicely contrived surprise ending. For the reader looking for a nonstop thriller this is the place to come.

                                                                                         - John A. Broussard

CITY OF SAINTS         
ANDREW HUNT         
Minotaur Books   November, 2012

Homicides can occur anywhere, even in Mormon country; but this is an especially brutal one. Sheriff's Deputy Art Oveson and his partner Roscoe Lund arrive at the scene to find the body of a woman mangled almost beyond recognition. She's eventually identified as Helen Pfalzgraf, the wife of a prominent Salt Lake City gynecologist, and her own car had been driven over her, not once, but at least seven times. Oveson, a devout Mormon, is still relatively new to investigations, and thus finds himself depending reluctantly but heavily on the crude and blaspheming Lund. His task is made no easier when his boss, Sheriff Cannon, insists that the perpetrator is a local businessman, and forces the deputies to pursue that possibility to the exclusion of all others. Oveson has his doubts, and though he does his best to placate Cannon, he gets fired, as Lund had been, after he had signed a letter demanding the Sheriff's resignation. A string of additional deaths follow, including the apparent suicide of the Sheriff's chief suspect.

CITY OF SAINTS is a police procedural with strong psychological elements, focusing on Oveson. He's a flawed hero, conflicted over trying to do what he knows is right while desperately clinging to a job at a time (1930) when finding any employment is difficult or impossible. Even after he loses his job, he struggles along in his search for the perpetrator, uncovering secrets that the local community would much prefer to keep hidden. Hunt provides a realistic ambience of life in a close-knit religious community where, despite the piety, horror lurks in the background. He's at his best in capturing the inner conflicts of his major protagonist as he works his way through a complex maze to arrive at the truth.

                                                                                       - John A. Broussard
POSTED FEBRUARY 28, 2013

ANGEL'S GATE        
P. G. STURGES          
Scribner   February, 2013

Be prepared for a Hollywood at its stereotypical worst. Or is this really a stereotype? ANGEL'S GATE is 354 pages of drugs, liquor, orgies, torture, sadistic sex in the best Fatty Arbuckle tradition, corrupted cops, and vast amounts of money that can buy anything, including cover-ups for murder.

Ex-cop Dick Henry plays a minor role is this world. He is Shortcut Man, solving problems, for a fee and more or less legally, such as recovering money for the victim of a con artist. His current job is finding a young woman's sister who has run off to Hollywood to become an actress.

Even before he can start out on what seems to be a straightforward and doable job, Henry meets Devi Stanton, and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Unfortunately, she is called off to help a woman of her acquaintance who is in trouble... real trouble! She had allowed into her apartment a psychopathic movie director who, in a drug-crazed rage, beat her and mutilated her badly. Stanton makes full use of her Marine training to subdue the perpetrator, but it appears that she has subdued him permanently, so she calls on Henry for help. Shortcut Man's solution to the problem is one that will get into the papers.

ANGEL'S GATE is an odd mélange of loosely related anecdotes strung together with the multi-billionaire Howard Hogue as the central figure. He is responsible, sometimes directly but more often indirectly, for much of the havoc wreaked in the course of the story. Melvin Shea, Hogue's assistant, regularly procures girls for his boss and maintains a stable of them stashed away in a variety of apartments. The disfigured woman was one of his "fillies", and he is understandably upset at the loss of this asset. It turns out there may have been other such incidents in the past that Shea has taken care of.

Despite the bizarre scenario of much of the novel, Sturges is a clever writer who has a knack for maintaining a level of grim humor that will keep the reader turning the pages and moving on from one short chapter to the next. Appropriately for a mystery novel consisting of rapid shifts of scenes and points of view, there are several surprise endings.

                                                                                       - John A. Broussard

THE DISCIPLE OF LAS VEGAS          
IAN HAMILTON          
Picador Trade PBO 2/13

WARNING: Reading of this novel may lead to an inordinate craving for Chinese food! You'll sample dishes in Chinese restaurants from Toronto to Manila. From the old stand-bys to delicacies you've never heard of. Between these gustatory forays, you'll learn something of the intricacies of Texas hold'em, the hazards of playing poker on the Internet, and the skillful use of interrogation methods (especially those where the one interrogated chooses to be uncooperative), as well as catching a glimpse of some of the more effective defensive moves in martial arts. Much of this will come to you through the courtesy of the young and beautiful forensic accountant Ava Lee. Male readers should rein in their fantasies, however, since Ava is openly gay.

She is in business with "Uncle" Chow Tung, and their specialty is getting money back for the victims of fraud. The two of them have been so successful in their enterprise, that an extremely wealthy Chinese businessman has hired them to recover some tens of millions of dollars that his brother has apparently stolen from the business. Ava senses that part of the job is also to clear the brother's name, something she is far from sure she'll be able to do -- especially when she finds that he had lost the money in Internet poker games. She soon discovers that the games were rigged, however, so it now behooves her to find the culprit(s) and force them to return their ill-gotten gains.

THE DISCIPLE OF LAS VEGAS is a cleverly paced story, slowly building to a succession of crescendos. Ava has to call on all her resources, including her martial arts training, to deal with the reluctant card sharks. And she has the additional problem of what to do about a contract that has been put out on her life by someone from a previous case whom she had "persuaded" to give up the money he had stolen. There's no question but that Hamilton has come up with a winner here. Ava is a truly memorable figure, the Chinese culture and values both in her Toronto home and throughout her quick trips to Hong Kong, Manila, San Francisco, Las Vegas, British Columbia, London and places in between are strikingly real, and the nature of international business, especially where it skirts the edge of the law, is well described. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

                                                                                  - John A. Broussard

THE ROMANOV CROSS          
ROBERT MASELLO         
Bantam Books   February, 2013

The greatest disaster in all of human history caused at least 50,000,000 deaths, and THE ROMANOV CROSS suggests that it may be about to recur. Live virus from the 1918 influenza epidemic could be contained in the corpses of early Russian colonists in Northern Alaska. Global warming is thawing the permafrost, causing upheaval of old graves, and there is genuine concern among American scientists that the virus has survived in Alaska's deep freeze, only to reappear as the weather warms.

Former Major Frank Slater, an experienced epidemiologist with the know-how for organizing research in remote and dangerous areas, is called upon to lead a team to investigate this potential threat. He immediately sets about recruiting virologists and others who can handle the logistics of setting up a laboratory on an uninhabited island north of the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter. Fortunately, when he and his crew arrive at Port Orlov, the nearest settlement to their research target on St. Peter's Island, they obtain the cooperation of the community's mayor, Nika Tincook, who recognizes the importance of their mission. But she insists on accompanying them to the Island, since it's sacred Inuit ground, and she hopes to minimize the damage they may have to do there as they exhume some of the corpses.

The action moves back and forth between the days of the fatal epidemic and the current feverish attempts to prevent its recurrence. A key venue is Czarist St. Petersburg, where Rasputin and the Romanov dynasty play an inadvertent role in the virus's survival. Meanwhile, the scene shifts from Afghanistan, where Slater had originally been stationed, to Washington D.C. and to a crab boat working the coast of Alaska. It was the boat's captain who had made the first contact with a body from the mysterious island.

Masello's tale focuses mainly on the difficulties faced by the research team as they combat horrendous weather conditions and human interference with their work. To these problems the author adds a major element of the supernatural - mysterious wolves who prowl the island, a strange, withered old crone who somehow has managed to survive there for decades, repeated hallucinations - or are they hallucinations? - and a gem-studded cross from one of the corpses, which may be connected to these paranormal events.

There's plenty of excitement here, and mysteries abound right up to the last few pages. The story is aimed at the thrill seeker who doesn't mind a heavy sprinkling of woo-woo.

                                                                                          - John A. Broussard

ENEMY OF MINE          
BRAD TAYLOR          
Dutton   January, 2013

An American envoy is on a peace mission to the Middle East, but it quickly becomes apparent that there are elements there that don't want to see this particular mission accomplished. Reliable evidence having been received that there's a plot to kill the envoy when he arrives in Lebanon, a U.S. Special Forces crew of five, headed by Pike Logan, has been given the job of ensuring that it doesn't succeed. Pike and his second in command, Jennifer, are posing as archeologists heading for a site in nearby Syria but now detoured to Lebanon. With Jennifer under cover among the women in these Moslem countries, the team soon gets a lead on the would-be assassin, an already-targeted perpetrator of violence against Americans. The race to head off the murder intensifies when Pike learns that there are actually two assassins gunning for the envoy, acting independently and at cross purposes, evidently for two different terrorist groups. This discovery sets much of the tone for the rest of the novel.

ENEMY OF MINE is taken right from the headlines of world newspapers, only slightly fictionalized to fit the framework of a contemporary international thriller. People travel back and forth under assumed names, false passports and forged visas. Deaths abound, with an average of more than one corpse per chapter... and there are eighty-four chapters. Explosions happen with considerable frequency. Mayhem, in general, with plenty of gunfire, some torture scenes and a couple of rapes, occurs between plans to carry out more of the same. And, Bond-like, this espionage thriller depends heavily on new gadgets, especially novel listening and tracking devices.

Taylor has gone all out with this lightening-speed tale of intrigue spanning countries from Lebanon to Yemen. The number and variety of terrorist groups is astounding, and their skill in waging underground warfare is equally amazing. While the reader can rest assured that the good guys will win in the end, they do so only after astonishing missteps, accompanied by plain fool luck. For instance, Pike has an IED planted on him, is completely unaware of it, but inadvertently leaves it behind just before it blows up. For readers looking for excitement and plenty of action, this book will more than fill the bill.

                                                                                           - John A. Broussard

STAKEOUT          
PARNELL HALL          
Pegasus Crime   January, 2013

The mess Private Investigator Stanley Hastings finds himself in had begun innocuously enough: an outraged wife had hired him to find out if her husband was cheating on her. Unfortunately, he becomes impatient while staking out the husband's motel room, pushes open the unlocked door, and finds the man's corpse... a discovery followed almost immediately by sirens and flashing lights as the police appear, having been called by the motel manager who had noticed Stanley's suspicious behavior. Fortunately, the hapless investigator manages to talk an attorney friend into bailing him out so he can try to find the real killer or killers. But fate doubles down on poor Stanley when, having learned that a smalltime gangster had occupied the room next to the philandering husband, he tracks the man to his home and finds him, also, dead.

STAKEOUT is well titled, since its protagonist - when he isn't ineptly following the car of one suspect or another - spends much of his time in stationary surveillance, peeing into Gatorade bottles in his car, but considering this a cushy job. Much of the novel is narrated tongue in cheek, with considerable amounts of heavy-handed humor, occasional catchy one-liners, and a great deal of clever repartee. Hall's specialty appears in his depiction of this private eye who is a born loser but who manages to luck out despite his uncanny ability for regularly making the worst possible choices in his pursuit of the guilty. It's an entertaining tale, not intended to be profound, though the story dwindles into an unrealistic and muddled court scene, where the mystery is finally unraveled.

                                                                                    - John A. Broussard
PARNELL HALL

FEAR OF BEAUTY         
SUSAN FROETSCHEL         
Seventh Street Books Trade PBO 1/13

To villagers in the small community of Laashekoh, struggling to survive decades of warfare in a remote mountainous area of southern Afghanistan, the boy's death was an accident. He had wandered too close to one of the cliff edges and fallen over. But his mother Sofi could not believe that Ali, who had been tending the family sheep for years in that rugged area and who climbed like a mountain goat, could possibly have just slipped and fallen. Yet while she mourns the loss of her eldest son, she and the entire village have other concerns. The Americans have moved into the area and are building a base nearby, with no indication of what their intentions are. At the facility, Special Ranger Major Joey Pearson's instructions are clear. He and his men are to provide security for the team of army specialists that has been assigned to help local farmers learn modern agricultural methods. Civilian Mita Samuelson is in charge of the project, and eager to get to work, but on a modest scale adapted to local conditions and crops. Captain Cameron Jannick, who heads the army group, has far more grandiose ideas, envisioning vast wheat fields with the latest GMO varieties growing in the rugged terrain, as if it were Kansas.

FEAR OF BEAUTY is essentially a story of clashing cultures, with the Afghans suspicious of both the Americans and the local Taliban. For the villagers, one thing is clear. They're tired of war. It's difficult to evaluate the extent to which this picture of that devastated country is genuine, though Froetschel's depiction seems real enough. But if all the media reports of the past dozen years are accurate, the shifting uncertain role of the American military is correctly portrayed, down to the mandatory ugly American in the form of Jannick. Major Pearson does manage to open up a more or less friendly relationship with the villagers, but Samuelson strays into dangerous territory. In the end, the mystery of Ali's death is resolved, and the aims of the local Taliban are revealed to be more complex than mere resistance to the invaders. The author is at her best in describing Sofi, who is torn between wishing to cling to the old ways and desperately seeking a more modern role for the women of her community: literacy, independence from the male dominated society, and acceptance of the agricultural help offered by the Americans.

                                                                                        - John A. Broussard

John's reviews of
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Brad Parks
  THE LAST TRADE by James Conway
and
THE TERRITORY by Tricia Fields
appear on the PAPERBACK PAGE .