Friday, May 29, 2009

A Review: The King of Torts by John Grisham

Hardcover: 376 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Feb 2003
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385508042
ISBN-13: 9780385508049

In my review about Grisham's The Summons, I wrote about a particular character who should have been arrested for a serious crime; I felt the fate of this character was left hanging with no closure for the reader. This character was known as the King of Torts. So when I saw this book, I thought he would probably be featured in it. I was right.

This book, however, was about the new King of Torts, J. Clay Carter II, the son of a disgraced DC lawyer, and currently working for the Office of the Public Defender. When Clay is approached by a mysterious stranger who calls himself a fireman, a freelancer who is hired by mega-corporations to put out fires, he is not prepared for what he is being offered. In this case, the corporation is multi-national pharmaceutical company. Seduced by greed and a lust for the big boy toys that millions of dollars can buy, Clay agrees to go along. The millions start pouring in and by the time Clay realizes he's in over his head, it's too late.

As you follow Clay on his roller coaster ride in the world of mass torts, you will go from liking the young dedicated lawyer and pleased that he has become successful, to not liking him at all as he becomes so obsessed with greed, fame and power that he completely loses sight of what is right.

And yes, the original King of Torts is featured, but no, he doesn't get what he deserves. Maybe in a subsequent novel.

Description (from the author's website)

The office of the public defender is not known as a training ground for bright young litigators. Clay Carter has been there too long and, like most of his colleagues, dreams of a better job in a real firm. When he reluctantly takes the case of a young man charged with a random street killing, he assumes it is just another of the many senseless murders that hit D.C. every week.

As he digs into the background of his client, Clay stumbles on a conspiracy too horrible to believe. He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a complex case against one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, looking at the kind of enormous settlement that would totally change his life—that would make him, almost overnight, the legal profession’s newest king of torts…

An excerpt...

THE SHOTS THAT FIRED the bullets that entered Pumpkin’s head were heard by no less than eight people. Three instinctively closed their windows, checked their door locks, and withdrew to the safety, or at least the seclusion, of their small apartments. Two others, each with experience in such matters, ran from the vicinity as fast if not faster than the gunman himself. Another, the neighborhood recycling fanatic, was digging through some garbage in search of aluminum cans when he heard the sharp sounds of the daily skirmish, very nearby. He jumped behind a pile of cardboard boxes until the shelling stopped, then eased into the alley where he saw what was left of Pumpkin.

And two saw almost everything. They were sitting on plastic milk crates, at the corner of Georgia and Lamont in front of a liquor store, partially hidden by a parked car so that the gunman, who glanced around briefly before following Pumpkin into the alley, didn’t see them. Both would tell the police that they saw the boy with the gun reach into his pocket and pull it out; they saw the gun for sure, a small black pistol. A second later they heard the shots, though they did not actually see Pumpkin take them in the head. Another second, and the boy with the gun darted from the alley and, for some reason, ran straight in their direction. He ran bent at the waist, like a scared dog, guilty as hell. He wore red-and-yellow basketball shoes that seemed five sizes too big and slapped the pavement as he made his getaway.

When he ran by them he was still holding the gun, probably a .38, and he flinched just for a instant when he saw them and realized they had seen too much. For one terrifying second, he seemed to raise the gun as if to eliminate the witnesses, both of whom managed to flip backward from their plastic milk crates and scramble off in a mad flurry of arms and legs. Then he was gone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's On Your Night Stand: May

Time for What’s On Your Nightstand? hosted monthly at 5 Minutes for Books.

That picture on my night stand is my mother and father in 1942, the year they were married. They met at the army base where my father was stationed during World War II. Mom worked in the PX. Shortly after they were married, she followed him to California where he was shipped out overseas. She came back home to live with her family, not knowing yet that she was pregnant with me. I was 13 months old before my father ever saw me.

I'm not sure where my love of reading came from since neither one of my parents were big readers. Although my mother reads occasionally. She is actually more of a crossword puzzle person than a book person like me. I make it a habit to read every day. It's rare that I miss a day.

I love mysteries and thrillers so that is usually what I'm reading. Love James Patterson, John Sandford and Patricia Cornwell.

I read Patricia Cornwell's Trace a few years ago but as I usually do with books I really enjoy, plan to read it again soon. Her Scarpetta series is my favorite; Dr. Kay Scarpetta is quite a woman. Now freelancing from South Florida, Dr. Kay Scarpetta returns to Richmond, Virginia, the city that turned its back on her five years ago. Dr. Joel Marcus, Scarpetta's replacement as Virginia's chief medical examiner, has asked her to help him solve the mysterious death of a 14-year-old girl. Marcus is generally loathed: he's petty, inept and harbors an intense hatred for Scarpetta.

James Patterson's Double Cross continues the crime solving genius of Dr. Alex Cross, a cop who's also a psychologist. Dr. Cross rejoins the Washington DC police force to confront two of the most diabolical killers he's ever matched wits with.

Just when his life is beginning to calm down, and he thinks he will be able to give his family the time and attention it needs, he is drawn back into the game to solve elaborate murders that have stunned Washington, DC. The killer loves the attention, and even sets up his own Web site and live video feed.

At the same time in Colorado, another criminal mastermind is planning a triumphant return. From his supermaximum-security prison cell, Kyle Craig, an ex- FBI agent turned criminal, has plotted for years to escape, even if he has to join forces with DC's Audience Killer to get back at Cross.

John Sandford's Secret Prey involves the murder of banking executive in a hunting lodge north of Minneapolis. Any of the executive's four fellow hunters, all employees at his Polaris Bank, could have shot him, and all had motives. We find out about halfway through the book who the real killer is, just a few pages before Lucas does, and that villain is a masterful creation.

There is an entire series of "Prey" novels, all featuring Minneapolis super-cop, Lucas Davenport. Lucas is not perfect but that only serves to make him more interesting. He is tall, handsome, brilliant and is a bit of a womanizer. He's the reason I've read 16 out the 19 books in the series. And I'm looking forward to reading the remaining three also.

This is my first submission for What's On Your Night Stand and I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading or plans to read.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Review: The Summons by John Grisham

Hardcover: 341 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Random House Feb 2002
ISBN-10: 0385503822
ISBN-13: 9780385503822

Grisham returns to Ford County, Mississippi, the location of his novel, A Time to Kill. We visit the small town of Clanton, MS, the home of Judge Reuben Atlee. His sons, Ray who is a law professor, and Forrest, the black sheep have been summoned home to discuss the Judge's will. Ray arrives first and is greeted by his father's dead body and a hidden stash of $3,000,000. What traspires next puts Ray at physical risk as he tries to find out where the money came from. Seduced by the money, but with a conscience about keeping it, his attempts to discover the source of the money are threatened by an unknown assailant who badly wants the money.

The plot isn't a real nail biter; the characters in this book are not really all that interesting with the exception of Harry Rex, a colorful country lawyer who was the Judge's closest friend. I always looked forward to his appearance in the story. And unless Grisham carries a couple of characters over to a subsequent novel, we are left hanging about the fate of those characters.; especially one particular character who should have been apprehended and indicted for a serious crime.

It's still a book worth reading; it's just not his best.

Description (from the author's website)

Ray Atlee is a professor of law at the University of Virginia. He’s forty-three, newly single, and still enduring the aftershocks of a surprise divorce. He has a younger brother, Forrest, who redefines the notion of a family’s black sheep.

And he has a father, a very sick old man who lives alone in the ancestral home in Clanton, Mississippi. He is known to all as Judge Atlee, a beloved and powerful official who has towered over local law and politics for forty years. No longer on the bench, the Judge has withdrawn to the Atlee mansion and become a recluse.

With the end in sight, Judge Atlee issues a summons for both sons to return home to Clanton, to discuss the details of his estate. It is typed by the Judge himself, on his handsome old stationery, and gives the date and time for Ray and Forrest to appear in his study.

Ray reluctantly heads south, to his hometown, to the place where he grew up, which he prefers now to avoid. But the family meeting does not take place. The Judge dies too soon, and in doing so leaves behind a shocking secret known only to Ray.

And perhaps someone else.

An excerpt:

It came by mail, regular postage, the old-fashioned way since the Judge was almost eighty and distrusted modern devices. Forget e-mail and even faxes. He didn’t use an answering machine and had never been fond of the telephone. He pecked out his letters with both index fingers, one feeble key at a time, hunched over his old Underwood manual on a rolltop desk under the portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Judge’s grandfather had fought with Forrest at Shiloh and throughout the Deep South, and to him no figure in history was more revered. For thirty-two years, the Judge had quietly refused to hold court on July 13, Forrest’s birthday.

It came with another letter, a magazine, and two invoices, and was routinely placed in the law school mailbox of Professor Ray Atlee. He recognized it immediately since such envelopes had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. It was from his father, a man he too called the Judge.

Professor Atlee studied the envelope, uncertain whether he should open it right there or wait a moment. Good news or bad, he never knew with the Judge, though the old man was dying and good news had been rare. It was thin and appeared to contain only one sheet of paper; nothing unusual about that. The Judge was frugal with the written word, though he’d once been known for his windy lectures from the bench.

It was a business letter, that much was certain. The Judge was not one for small talk, hated gossip and idle chitchat, whether written or spoken. Ice tea with him on the porch would be a refighting of the Civil War, probably at Shiloh, where he would once again lay all blame for the Confederate defeat at the shiny, untouched boots of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, a man he would hate even in heaven, if by chance they met there.

He’d be dead soon. Seventy-nine years old with cancer in his stomach. He was overweight, a diabetic, a heavy pipe smoker, had a bad heart that had survived three attacks, and a host of lesser ailments that had tormented him for twenty years and were now finally closing in for the kill. The pain was constant. During their last phone call three weeks earlier, a call initiated by Ray because the Judge thought long distance was a rip-off, the old man sounded weak and strained. They had talked for less than two minutes.

The return address was gold-embossed: Chancellor Reuben V. Atlee, 25th Chancery District, Ford County Courthouse, Clanton, Mississippi. Ray slid the envelope into the magazine and began walking. Judge Atlee no longer held the office of chancellor. The voters had retired him nine years earlier, a bitter defeat from which he would never recover. Thirty-two years of diligent service to his people, and they tossed him out in favor of a younger man with radio and television ads. The Judge had refused to campaign. He claimed he had too much work to do, and, more important, the people knew him well and if they wanted to reelect him then they would do so. His strategy had seemed arrogant to many. He carried Ford County but got shellacked in the other five.

It took three years to get him out of the courthouse. His office on the second floor had survived a fire and had missed two renovations. The Judge had not allowed them to touch it with paint or hammers. When the county supervisors finally convinced him that he had to leave or be evicted, he boxed up three decades’ worth of useless files and notes and dusty old books and took them home and stacked them in his study. When the study was full, he lined them down the hallways into the dining room and even the foyer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Review: Broken Prey by John Sandford

Hardcover: 390 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Penguin Group USA May 2005
ISBN-10: 0399152725
ISBN-13: 9780399152726

I noted in the previous review that Lucas Davenport has mellowed since becoming a husband and new father, and I have no reason to change that opinion after reading this book. He's a decent guy, but not perfect. However, I kind of miss the edginess he displays in the earlier Prey novels. With that said, this was still an excellent read. No one can devise a complex plot like John Sandford and this book was no different.

I would have liked to get to know the victims; they get killed off without us really knowing anything about them. There's no way to really care about the victims as they are almost an afterthought to the story. Yes, Lucas and his cohorts are frantic to find the killer before there are more victims, but the focus is mostly on the cops and the bad guy.

Sandford introduces some lighter moments, the most entertaining about Davenport's new iPod and his quest to compile a list of the 100 best rock songs ever recorded, which every cop on the force gives him suggestions for. The list is at the end of the book and some I agree with and some I don't. The Piano Man by Billy Joel?! I don't think so!

Synopsis (from the author's website)

Lucas Davenport confronts a living nightmare, in one of the spookiest Prey novels yet from the number-one bestselling author.

"There are reasons why John Sandford's Prey series has been so wildly successful, and they begin with our old friends plot and character," praises the Washington Post. "But in Broken Prey, Sandford has outdone himself. He is at the top of his game. You want to know the only thing wrong with this guy? He makes it look easy."

But there is nothing easy about what Lucas Davenport faces now.

The first body is of a young woman, found on a Minneapolis riverbank, her throat cut, her body scourged and put on display. Whoever did this, Lucas knows, is pushed by brain chemistry, there is something wrong with him. This isn't a bad love affair.
The second body is found a week later, in a farmhouse six miles south. Same condition, same display – except this time it is a man. Nothing to link the two murders, nothing to indicate that the killings end here.

"This guy..." Lucas said. He took a deep breath, let it out as a sigh. "This guy is gonna bust our chops."

And soon he is going to do far, far worse than that.

A suspect emerges early: a man recently released from a prison hospital and who now seems to have cut himself free from his court-imposed ankle bracelet and disappeared. But the more Lucas investigates, the more he wonders: Is this really the man? Could he really have done this all by himself? And where has he gone to, anyway?
And meanwhile, a predator waits....

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Review: Hidden Prey by John Sandford

Hardcover: 352 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Putnam Pub Group May 2004
ISBN-10: 039915180X
ISBN-13: 9780399151804

Hidden Prey begins with the murder of a Russian merchant marine, or so it seems. As this very complex story progresses, it becomes apparent that there is much more to the case. Partnered with a female Russian agent, Lucas Davenport is called in to solve this murder and several others that result in the discovery of a Russian spy ring that has been operating in the Duluth area for 70 years.

Lucas seems to have been toned down in this novel, appearing more mellow since his marriage and subsequent fatherhood. He is still brilliant, however, and maintains his sense of humor. There are some funny lines as Nadya, the Russian agent, struggles to understand American slang.

I didn't feel the ending really tied up the story; there were some loose ends. Perhaps Sandford will tie up those loose ends in his next "Prey" novel. I hope so because I just felt that justice had not really been served.

Description (from the author's website)

Six months ago, Lucas Davenport tackled his first case as a statewide troubleshooter, and he thought that one was plenty strange enough. But that was before the Russian got killed. On the shore of Lake Superior, a man named Rodion Oleshev is found shot dead, three holes in his head and his heart, and though nobody knows why, everybody – the local cops, the FBI, and the Russians themselves – has a theory. And when it turns out he had very high government connections, that's when it hits the fan.

A Russian cop flies in from Moscow, Davenport flies in from Minneapolis, law enforcement and press types swarm the crime scene – and, in the middle of it all, there is another murder. Is there a relationship between the two? What is the Russian cop hiding from Davenport? Is she – yes, it's a woman – a cop at all? Why was the man shot with fifty-year-old bullets? Before he can find the answers, Davenport will have to follow a trail back to another place, another time, and battle the shadows he discovers there – shadows that turn out to be both very real and very deadly.

Crisp, dynamic, constantly surprising, richly satisfying, once more this is "vintage Sandford."

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Review: 1st to Die by James Patterson

Hardcover: 424 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Little Brown & Co, Mar 2001
ISBN-10: 0316666009
ISBN-13: 9780316666008

In this first novel of the Women's Murder Club series, Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector who's just gotten some very bad news. She deals with it by immersing herself in her newest case. A killer is murdering recently married couples, and Lindsay is stumped. Off duty, she forms The Women's Murder Club, made up of her friends: an assistant district attorney, a newspaper reporter, and a medical examiner. The four women use everything at their disposal to figure out who the killer is before he can strike again. Their lead suspect is a world-famous writer whose plot from his first novel resemble the murders. Murdering his victims on the happiest day of their lives, their wedding day, he purposefully leaves enough clues for his trackers to discover his identity and put him behind bars.

There is suspense from the beginning to the end of this book. You will not want to put it down once you start. It is truly a 5 star thriller.

Description (from the author's website)

Four women-four friends-share a determination to stop a killer who has been stalking newlyweds in San Francisco. Each one holds a piece of the puzzle: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector in the San Francisco Police Department, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant D.A., and Cindy Thomas just started working the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the usual procedures aren't bringing them any closer to stopping the killings. So these women form a Women's Murder Club to collaborate outside the box and pursue the case by sidestepping their bosses and giving one another a hand.

The four women develop intense bonds as they pursue a killer whose crimes have stunned an entire city. Working together, they track down the most terrifying and unexpected killer they have ever encountered-before a shocking conclusion in which everything they knew turns out to be devastatingly wrong.