Twelve Days by Alex Berenson

twelve days

Description Twelve days.

Wells, with his former CIA bosses Ellis Shafer and Vinnie Duto, has uncovered a staggering plot, a false-flag operation to convince the President to attack Iran. But they have no hard evidence, and no one at Langley or the White House will listen.

Now the President has set a deadline for Iran to give up its nuclear program, and the mullahs in Tehran—furious and frightened—have responded with a deadly terrorist attack. Wells, Shafer, and Duto know they have only twelve days to find the proof they need. They fan out, from Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, Israel to Russia, desperately trying to tease out the clues in their possession. Meanwhile, the United States is moving soldiers and Marines to Iran’s border. And Iran has mobilized its own squad of suicide bombers.

And as the days tick by and the obstacles mount, they realize that everything they do may not be enough…

Twelve Days is the second part of the two-part John Wells story that began with The Counterfeit Agent and it offers a thrilling conclusion to the story. Twelve Days is literally a ticking clock story.  The president has given Iran an ultimatum and will go to war in 12 days, which is how much time John Wells has to prove that the United States is being baited into war against Iran by a third party.

John Wells has always been a bit of an outsider character, but he has never been on his own more than he has in this book.  The administration is committed to war if its demands are not met and is not willing to believe that it has been duped. Ousted former CIA director and current Senator Duto doesn’t have the resources and authority he formerly had and eventually burns whatever bridges with the administration he has left. Ellis Schafer is still inside the CIA but is increasingly marginalized by new leadership and is eventually fighting for his freedom if not his life.

Duto and Schafer, still one of the best odd-couple, angel/devil on the shoulder pairings in literature, are able to provide Wells some assistance, but he is left largely to his own devices and has to cash in every chit he has acquired over the years. Twelve Days once again takes John Wells all over the world from England to Russia to Israel, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.  The fights, chases, and conflicts are the equal of any contemporary thriller writers, but there is an added sense of realism, both physical and moral, to an aging hero whose physical limitations not only affect strategy, but linger in a realistic way. While not disabling, they force adjustments which deepen the respect for John Wells.

Alex Berenson also has a unique skill for creating realistic set pieces that illustrate the heightening tensions in the main plot. From a missile strike on a commercial airliner to a drone strike against terror leaders, he creates characters and scenarios that are realistic, exciting and crucial to raising the stakes of the story.

Reading the series in order is not necessary, although helpful in seeing the growth of the main characters and their relationship to one another. Twelve Days could technically be read alone as the backstory is recapped, but is better read together with the previous book, The Counterfeit Agent,  which begins the events which conclude in this book.

Berenson continues at the top of his game with John Wells Twelve Days that is sure to please long-time fans and hopefully bring new ones to this great thriller series.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy o this book.

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

great zoo of chinaDescription: The all-new thriller from #1 internationally bestselling author Matthew Reilly!

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed. A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can’t…

Matthew Reilly is one of the best action writers in the business, but even so, I was a little hesitant when I began this book. I was worried it would be too derivative of Jurassic Park. It didn’t take me more than a few pages to put those fears to rest. Reilly has delivered another outstanding action thriller and The Great Zoo of China is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The idea of ancient creatures somehow surviving into the present day, or being recreated in the present day has been intriguing writers and filmmakers and fascinating readers for a long time.  From Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World to King Kong and all the way up to Jurassic Park and beyond.  The thrill of pitting human skills against the apex predators of an earlier age is tremendously exciting when done well, and Matthew Reilly does it very, very well.

Dragons have long been fascinating creatures and date back to some of our earliest literature. They also figure strongly into Chinese mythos, which helps make China a great setting for this story. The secretiveness, world financial dominance, and competitiveness of China make the scale of the effort to create the worlds largest and most impressive zoo. With these type of stories, it just takes a nod toward plausibility to let go and enjoy the action. Reilly does more than that and puts some thought into how and why such a thing could come to be.  That is more than enough to propel you into the story.

Reilly has made a career out of writing strong characters and incredible action sequences.  CJ Cameron is a great and resilient character and she is more than equal to the task when events at the zoo inevitably begin to go wrong.  What really shines in this book though are the impressive action sequences.  Once the action begins, it doesn’t let up. The characters are thrust from one dangerous situation to the next and at each stage the action and the stakes go up another notch. Reilly isn’t the first to tell this kind of story, but he takes a back seat to no one in telling it. This is a popcorn thriller and if you like high voltage action, you will love The Great Zoo of China.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

If you enjoy this book, you might want to check out The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, Carnosaur by Harry Adam Knight, and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

devil you knowDescription:  In the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, The Devil You Know is a thrilling debut about a rookie reporter, whose memories of the murder of her childhood best friend bring danger—and a stalker—right to her doorstep.

The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.

Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.

From critically acclaimed author Elisabeth de Mariaffi comes a spine-tingling debut about secrets long buried and obsession that cannot be controlled.

Evie Jones is an interesting character and Elisabeth de Mariaffi has created a really interesting world for her to inhabit. The 90’s setting is old enough to feel dated yet it doesn’t seem like an out of touch world.

The tragedy that happened to Evie’s friend Lianne when they were children colors Evie’s world and all her relationships. The need to know what really happened has influenced her decision to become a reporter and it influences how she relates to her parents and her friend David.

Elisabeth de Mariaffi creates some very interesting secondary characters, particularly Evie’s mother. Evie herself lives with one foot in the real world and one foot in her imagination. The story is told entirely from her point of view and you never know if what she believes is happening now, as well as what happened in the past, is real. You live in Evie’s mind and quite frankly, it’s a bit claustrophobic.

I never entirely trusted Evie’s perception, and frankly neither did she. The problem with this is that it robbed the story of some of its tension. Further, I never really warmed to her character and was less invested in what happened to her. The story of her mother and her youth was more tantalizing and I would have been interested in learning more about that.

The Devil You Know is a solid story but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of thrilling. As a main character, Evie felt lacking. The other characters were mostly solid. The book has mild chills in places and the writing is good, but it never quite took off for me.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

die againDescription: Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are back—and they’re going into the wild to find a killer. Die Again is the latest heart-pounding thriller in Tess Gerritsen’s bestselling series, the inspiration behind TNT’s hit show Rizzoli & Isles.
When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst. Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts—or the wild animals prowling in the shadows—could tear them apart. But the deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage. Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

Tess Gerritsen is a talented writer with a long history of success and her latest Rizzoli & Isles book, Die Again, proves she remains at the top of her game.  Die Again takes you on a ride from Boston to Botswana and keeps you guessing the entire way.

Rizzoli and Isles are established characters both in print and on television. While I’m familiar with some of Gerritsen’s stand alone work, this was my first Rizzoli and Isles story.  Gerritsen does a good job of painting her characters so that you feel like you know them whether you’ve followed them from the beginning or are meeting them for the first time.

Along with a strong cast of characters, the story really shines here.  A gruesome murder that leaves a big game hunter and taxidermist displayed like one of his own projects is the entry point to the mystery. As the investigation begins and further bodies are uncovered, ties to a safari gone horribly wrong years earlier in Botswana begin to develop. Rizzoli and Isles bring their respective skills as a detective and a pathologist to bear developing leads that seem to take one step backwards for every two steps forward.

Gerritsen does a great job of keeping both the Boston and the Botswana storylines exciting and terrifying. She also keeps the reader doubting his or her own conclusions much like the doubt that Rizzoli and Isles feel from their colleagues and each other.  Personal drama in each of their lives adds further stress to the situation. Events build steadily towards an exciting and satisfying conclusion.  Strong characters, great development and intricate and exciting storytelling all come together into a terrific book.  Die Again will please current fans as well as win new ones.  Great read.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.