Steinhauer’s Middleman

MiddlemanOlen Steinhauer

If literate, smart, fast paced thrillers are your thing, you should pick up every Olen Steinhauer novel as soon as it is published. He is without a doubt amongst the best in the business. This thriller about a leftist social movement (or is it a terrorist organization?) which one day tells its members to pick up and leave is exactly the kind of mind candy I can’t put down. I finished it two days, staying up far, far too late

Some thrillers manipulate you into reading more with a cliff hanger at every chapter. Steinhauer doesn’t go for anything so pedestrian. He keeps you reading by keeping the pace high, the characters compelling, and the ideas complex enough to ensure that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time.

Make no mistake, this is entertainment, but its top-flight entertainment and if this sort of dad airplane book genre is your thing (and it is definitely my thing) Middleman is not to be missed.

Recommended.

Olen Steinhauer

Olen Steinhauer

Review: Ide I.Q.

I.Q.

Joe Ide

Cat nip for the crime novel fan. Fast paced P.I. story set in Los Angeles with a compelling protagonist, I.Q. A genius, a high school dropout, black, socially insecure and from Long Beach. He’s an unusual hero in a genre more often populated by misanthropic ex-cop white dudes.  You won’t be surprised to learn its already optioned for a movie.

The plot, focused on the possible attempts to murder a rap star moves, and resolves in a way that is, while a bit over the top, not as absurd as many crime novel crescendos.

But rarely is it the plot that makes a crime novel fun. More often, it’s the detective, or the killer. And here, both are fun. Our detective is wonderfully fascinating. His back story tragic, his intelligence, inspiring, his personality quirks, related-able.  The killer is pleasantly psychopathic and, as is common in these books, a bit overdrawn. But this is a crime novel, and a thriller, its meant to be enjoyed at a breakneck pace for the clever asides, the telling anecdotes, the compelling action.  I enjoyed the hell out of it. If well written crime novels are your thing, you will too.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Kostova’s The Historian

Ed note: This review was originally written in 2007 for a now long defunct livejournal account.
The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

A retelling of the Dracula story, this time by a pretentious writer looking to hit it big with a “literary thriller”. Generally, this is the kind of book I cannot resist. I love nothing more than a page turner with literary aspirations . But this book is neither literature, nor a thriller. Its overwrought, confusing, and poorly executed. Kostova can write better than your average thriller writer, but the plot drags, and the characters are uninspired.

I am told years of research went into this, which explains the mind numbing cultural detail, but does not explain why a better job wasn’t done getting me to care about the protagonist, . Apparently, not only can you write about vampires and exotic locales in a totally tepid and uninteresting style, but you can also become a bestseller by doing it.

Not recommended.

Eisler’s Rain Fall, Blood from Blood, and Choke Point, Killing Rain

A Clean Kill in Tokyo (Previously Published as Rain Fall) (A John Rain Novel)

A Lonely Resurrection (Previously Published as Hard Rain and Blood from Blood) (A John Rain Novel)

Winner Take All (Previously published as Rain Storm and Choke Point) (A John Rain Novel)

Redemption Games (Previously published as Killing Rain and One Last Kill) (A John Rain Novel)

Barry Eiseler

It is pretty embarrassing to admit that not only did I read four volumes of Barry Eisler’s series about John Rain, the super assassin with a case of ennui, but I also read them all in the span of a week and really, really enjoyed them. As I have said before, I have no taste.

I will say in my defense is that I was living in Cairo at the time,  a strange city, in which I knew few people. I didn’t speak the language and there’s only so much time you can spend with your colleagues from work.  These novels were a away to get through the sometimes lonely nights. They are pretty expertly executed as thriller novels with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter, characters well developed enough to care about, but not at the expense of action and sex, and multiple mini-dramas playing out while the main plot line develops.  If airplane thrillers are you thing, you can’ go wrong with these books.

Recommended for the enthusiast. 
* note that since I read these books, they’ve all been republished under different names. For some of these books, that the third renaming. Cashing in on harried business buying books at airplane kiosks? Seems kinda sketchy.