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The Romanov Prophecy, by Steve Berry

DETAILS

Title: THE ROMANOV PROPHECY
Author: Steve Berry
Publisher: Hodder
ISBN: 978-0340899311
Genre: Thriller

BACKCOVER BLURB

The brutal killing of the Romanovs meant the end of the Tsars.

Nearly a century later, the people of Russia have voted to bring back the tsar, a ruler to be selected from the distant relatives of the last tsar; Nicholas II, who was murdered along with the rest of the Romanov family in 1918. Miles Lord, asked to run a background check on one of the candidates, has a ringside seat as history is being made.

But excitement turns to terror when Miles is nearly killed by gunmen. Suddenly, he is racing across continents with only a cryptic utterance by Rasputin, made at the time of the Romanov massacre, as his guide. The implications of this prophecy are earth-shattering — not only for the future star and Mother Russia, but for Miles himself.

WHAT I THOUGHT

THE ROMANOV PROPHECY is another fast-paced thriller that is pure popcorn entertainment from the first page, till the last. A rip-roaring romp through the streets, and politics, of Moscow, in a possible near-future where Russia, looking for it’s roots, is set on the restoration of the Monarchy. And looking for the next in line, and most direct heir to the murdered house of Romanov, a Commission is assembled.

Straight out of the gate, Miles Lord—a black American lawyer and part of the firm looking into the background of the hot favourite to ascend the throne, Stefan Baklanov—is running for his life, as gunmen open fire on him in the middle of a lunchtime crowd. From here on in Miles is in a race to piece together who is shooting at him, and want him dead, and why.

Part of what makes a Steve Berry novel entertaining and fun is the twist he takes on the tried and tested formula, adding his own touches like having a tall, athletic, black man the unlikely hero racing against time, the odds, corrupt government officials, the Russian mob, and an unlikely group of men hellbent on making Baklanov their Tsar puppet.

Throw in a love-interest with a twist of her own—she’s a circus acrobat—and have the pair thrust into the midst of an ancient prophecy they have to solve along the way. And the story is ripe for plenty of action, near-escapes, shoot-outs, as the pair piece together the clues that take them from Moscow, to St. Petersburg, Siberia and back to America.

What I also love about a Steve Berry novel is the history he always manages to incorporate. Most of what’s quoted in THE ROMANOV PROPHECY is documented fact. What’s Berry has done is take those facts and created a very plausible, if somewhat fantastical story that has you thinking.

The settings are authentic, the secondary characters have some depth to them, and the dialogue is exactly what you’d expect for this kind of thriller. The plot and pacing are brisk, and play out nicely to a very satisfactory conclusion. All-in-all, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Cutaway, by Christina Kovac

DETAILS

Title: THE CUTAWAY
Author: Christina Kovac
Publisher: Atria/37 INK
ISBN: 978-1501166105
Genre: Mystery | Thriller

BACKCOVER BLURB

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

WHAT I THOUGHT

The author of THE CUTAWAY, Christina Kovac, looks to have taken an episode of the hit TV drama, NOTORIOUS, set it in Washington DC, stripped it down to the bare bones, exorcised any trace of humour or witty dialogue, and replaced the characters with a set of flimsy narcissistic cutouts.

To be blunt, THE CUTAWAY is a contrived piece of sloppy writing riddled with editorial mistakes and errors. If I never see the words “sickening frequency” again, it will be too soon. The over-use of such catchphrases was monotonous. As was the stilted and somewhat clichéd dialogue. Also, the lack of empathy or any depth of emotion made it impossible to feel any connection whatsoever to Kovac’s limp set of characters.

To call this THE NEWSROOM meets THE GONE GIRL is a disservice to both, as this novel barely reaches past 300+ pages and lacks the same credibility.

What I also found odd was the side trip Virginia takes to see the dying father who abandoned her as a child, all without so much as a preamble. I mean, why did this character suddenly decide to see this man she obviously didn’t know, and who, we are told, she hated so-much-so, she detailed a list of grievances about him while driving over to the hospital. Bizarre beyond words.

The same goes for the so-called love-interest between Virginia and TV anchor-man, Ben. There is no real build up or romance, just a quick bit of sex on a desktop without any real regard for context.

Context, again, being the real issue here. There is none whatsoever. Events, or vignettes, are loosely strung together to create a meandering narrative that, for the first three quarters of the book, seems to miss the point. There’s a woman missing, presumed dead. Not that anyone seems to care about this fact. And skimping on details is not taut writing, it’s simply lazy writing.

I went into this looking for a gritty, suspenseful, psychological thriller, but the author fails to deliver on every level.

When all is said and done, I think Ms. Kovac should stick to the visual medium of TV, and leave the writing to those who understand the power of words.

Rage Against The Dying, by Becky Masterman

DETAILS

Title: RAGE AGAINST THE DYING
Author: Becky Masterman
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9780143182672
Genre: Murder-Mystery | Suspense

BACKCOVER BLURB

Brigid Quinn’s experiences hunting sexual predators for the FBI have left her with memories she wishes she didn’t have and lethal skills she hopes never to need again. Having been pushed into early retirement by events she thinks she’s put firmly behind her, Brigid keeps telling herself she is settling down nicely in Tucson with a wonderful new husband, Carlo, and their dogs.

But the past intervenes when a man named Floyd Lynch confesses to the worst unsolved case of Brigid’s career—the disappearance and presumed murder of her young protege, Jessica. Floyd knows things about that terrible night that were never made public and offers to lead the cops to Jessica’s body in return for a plea bargain.

It should finally be the end of a dark chapter in Brigid’s life. Except the new FBI agent on the case, Laura Coleman, thinks the confession is fake, and Brigid finds she cannot walk away from violence and retribution after all, no matter what the cost.

WHAT I THOUGHT

In RAGE AGAINST THE DYING, the first of her Brigid Quinn novels, author Becky Masterman presents us with an unorthodox lead character in the dogged Brigid Quinn. Who is aptly supported by a stellar cast of characters. From her mirror, up and coming FBI agent, Laura Coleman, to Brigid’s ex-lovers David Weiss and Zach Robertson. Plus her recently wed-to, ex-priest, Carlos DiForenza. Each is used as a foil to Brigid’s actions and personality, resolving, mirroring, lensing, and reflecting the good, the bad, and the downright ugly side of human nature and all it has to offer.

Brigid is a delightfully flawed individual who makes questionable choices—like, accidentally killing a granny-killing stalker—and then? Argues with herself in retrospect about her choices and decisions. Masterman explores with a deft touch what it is that makes Quinn tick, and thereby, in a way, us, as human beings; why do we do what we do.

The writing never wavers, it’s as tough, hot, and gritty as the Tucson, Arizona setting. Unforgiving in places, gruesome and violent when necessary, and balanced, in part, by Brigid’s dry wit.

Essentially a murder-mystery, Masterman goes on to add several other layers as she builds up both the characters and main story-arc, weaving in levels of tension between characters that, no doubt, will also be explored at a later date. And, because of that attention to detail, we get some thoughtful exploration of motives, and a depth to these characters that brings an edge to Masterman’s storytelling.

Excellent depth and character-play, with a well-plotted, twisting story, and a few surprises that, all-in-all, made the ending all the more enjoyable.