Here’s the thing
You’re cruising along, right? Devouring that summer read all your friends said you had to finish.
But. when you get near the end, you think: All right. This is predictable.
Then Wham! The author brings an ending that is just far enough out of the blue that you didn’t see it coming. But it’s not outrageous, either.
It’s just right, tying up the plotline in a neat and satisfactory fashion.
Here are six books that, we humbly submit, live up to that statement.
By the way, no one is paying us to put this list forward. It’s just another quirky service of BrainPotpourri.
Rik’s by dhtreichler
A huge surprise ending. Totally unexpected.
The entire affair began with sheep brains and falafel — Saddam Hussein’s favorite dish.
CIA operative Rik Bogart is trying to impress famed TV correspondent Ingrid Johansson at lunch one day in downtown Baghdad when the dubious delicacy threatens to rocket right back up into Rik’s bowl. Thankfully, he steadies himself with a firm look into Ingrid’s lustrous, approving, emerald eyes and the two continue getting to know one another on the outdoor restaurant patio in pre-war-torn Baghdad.
It’s a strange way to start a romance — and an even stranger way to begin a clandestine relationship, feeding each other choice bits of information from highly placed sources.
“The desert winds have shifted,” she says enigmatically one evening. The remark proves to be prophetic and sets off a flurry of frantic activity at the U.S. Embassy where Rik is headquartered. Sensitive files are burned and hurried plans are made to leave Iraq, under threat by Saddam’s secret police.
But what’s the cause of all this dire activity?
It is the eve of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait, and this thrilling book gives a true-to-life account of covert activity surrounding the event, weaving in some very realistic diplomatic dialog from 1989.
You’ll swear you are standing beside Rik through every agonizing moment of uncertainty, fear and outright intimidation by Saddam’s goons as he makes plans to go to Riyadh to escape almost certain death. But in the end, he stays in Baghdad to save the woman he loves.
Problem is, she has gone to the Kuwaiti front with a news crew, leaving a bewildered Rik at the mercy of the sadistic Tariq Yuhana, head of the Iraqi State Police.
The price Rik pays for his devotion to his departed love is 19 months inside Abu Ghraib — the prison of the dead.
The author’s description of Rik’s time in his dreadful, cramped cell is excruciating, watching his body shrivel and his mind slowly wither with it. Indeed, this is a grim highlight of the book as the author vividly illustrates what happens to political prisoners in places like Iraq. It’s beyond brutal.
He has all but lost hope when word comes of the cease-fire. He is released in cast-off clothes with nothing but a plane ticket to New York in one hand and a bottle of expensive wine — a whimsical parting gift from Yuhana — in the other. He still hopes to find Ingrid and share a toast to his release.
The remainder of this fine psychological thriller details Rik’s return to civilization and his new life as a nightclub owner in the Big Apple ten years later. Inevitably, Ingrid walks through the doors of Rik’s place in 2001. The reunion does not go well, and they part company once again — only for Ingrid to court a disastrous end when the World Trade Center collapses.
What ensues will prevent you from putting this book down — even to sleep — as Rik sets off on a new quest, as a favor to an old friend. The surprise ending is delicious.
This is a tense, methodical look at what went wrong for U.S. policy in Iraq, and the devastating effect it had on the men and women who were there just prior to the first Gulf War.
But it’s also a study in dogged determination: one man persevering in the face of deprivation and long odds to finally build a new life for himself after his country turns its back on him.
It also speaks eloquently about such vital issues as patriotism, comradeship, and the lengths to which love will go.
Five stars for Rik’s. This gritty read will ring true with any follower of America’s foreign interventions — and then deliver a stunning affirmation of life in the end.
Winchester’s Bargain by Murray Lee Eiland, Jr.
Ties the story up with a literary bow.
What is it they say about a Chinese meal? They’re great, but an hour later you’re hungry again?
Chinese is definitely on the menu in this richly layered romp through the shadowy subculture of international stock manipulation. And there’s plenty for previous Bart Northcote, P.I., fans to devour as Bart and his eclectic Greek chorus of investigative team members try to penetrate the veil surrounding the Golden Dragon banking cartel.
Bart is once again lounging in his posh Los Angeles manse’s hot tub with staffers Honey Moons, Salome Jones, Wanda Malone, and new addition Black Jade each night as they methodically unravel the knotted ball of clues that will lead them to the incredibly wealthy and powerful planners behind an outrageous plot to send the financial world into a titanic tailspin.
It’s a worthy test of the team’s investigative prowess as layer after layer of deceit is peeled back to reveal — what?
That’s the beauty of this stellar addition to the Bart Northcote canon of hardboiled detective novels. They are fourteen cuts above the usual tough-talking, wiseacre noir narratives on the market today. This gem has a sheen of sophistication far exceeding the usual fare.
Shoot, you practically need a degree in macroeconomics to fathom the seriousness of the threat exposed with disarming ease by Bart and his bevy of co-investigators. Well, not really. But the ingenuity of the plot premise outdoes any ordinary P.I. adventure.
As the story rachets up in intensity, Bart and his bunch enter a danger zone reserved for those with too much insight into how the mysterious Mr. Winchester Lee and his sinister associates move the Dow up and down with impunity.
There are also tantalizing side plots that delve briefly into Bart’s past, and a couple of red herrings thrown in just to flavor the fictional stew, but in the end, as with all the Northcote narratives, this story is tied up with a literary bow that will leave the reader satisfied.
The writing here has never been better and the author goes to great lengths to avoid even the least salacious sex scenes — which otherwise could abound in a book prominently peopled with large-breasted, long-legged babes who also possess the keenest of intellects. No sexual stereotyping here!
Five plus stars to Winchester’s Bargain. Once again, Murray Lee Eiland, Jr., strikes a deep authorial chord that will resonate with all his fans, old and new.
Seattle Red (The Boss MacTavin Action Mysteries Book 4) by Reb MacRath
Boss MacTavin engages in a memorable closing firefight – without any firearms. Truly inventive!
Boss takes his newly acquired (and very un-Bosslike) man bag with him to the mean streets of Seattle in this new mystery that is vintage Boss MacTavin.
His client: Ramona Hinton, who just wants to know who is responsible for the untimely demise of her security guard husband, found in the drug-infested alley behind the convenience store in which he worked.
But the case involves far more than what appears to be a random whack job. It turns out to be an epic fight against Organized Retail Crime (ORC), which is running rampant in area stores. Boss joins forces with some highly memorable characters, including local rent-a-cop legend Duncan Jackson (think “Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide”) and beefy detective Al Swanson who “was in his mid-forties, six-three, 230 pounds. He appeared to like the sauce and had the pallid complexion and rasp of a serial smoker.”
As with every Boss book, author extraordinaire Reb MacRath entertains endlessly, marrying matchless prose with memorable plotlines. This installment in the series is no exception. From time to time, he can’t resist a well-turned, quotable phrase:
“Deep voice. Soft and low as a spirit can go.”
“Angus McPherson — born of thunderrrrrr, drunk on blood!”
“Tough guy in a small man’s way. Dead-eyed and bullet-headed.”
But, back to the story. Boss, and his two colleagues, DB (Dirty Boy) and Luigi, take on the boosters and the alphas that comprise the majority of fleet-fingered felons by posing as either blind-eyed security guards or, in Boss’s case, as a multi-pocketed pilferer — the better to sniff his way up the food chain to the head goombahs running the rackets.
The team is subsequently joined by a gorgeous Geisha to run a sting that will entice the ORC mind trust to reveal themselves, so the Seattle detective team, Al and his partner Bobby, can swoop in and make the pinch.
But it’s not that simple. The good guys run up against some tough resistance and before the end the plotline dips and twists on a rollercoaster ride to the surprising finish.
A special highlight: at one point in the story, Boss is forced to make use of a unique boutique called Armless Arms, which specializes in “alternative weapons” from bladed crucifixes to tactical pens to stun guns disguised as cell phones. The resulting firefight — without any fire — is truly inventive.
This is a well-orchestrated story that shows off all the Boss bravado fans have come to love, backed up by an ensemble cast of characters who are totally believable and one hundred percent enjoyable.
Five-plus stars to Seattle Red. And bring on the next book in the series. We’re all rrrready for yet another Boss Corrrrection.
The Gambit by Brad Carlson
A Bruce-Willis-movie-calibre ending with righteous justice served up in true Special Forces fashion.
It’s nearing doomsday in this fast-paced novel of international intrigue by first-time author Brad Carlson.
Israel and Iran are set to square off on the rapidly developing Iranian nuclear capability, and CIA operative Stonewall Jackson has been assigned to an elite Israeli team tasked with smuggling out the West’s chief source of intelligence on the threat. This they do in a quick, professionally executed extraction, and then, with their highly placed informant out of harm’s way, the Israelis strike hard and fast to neutralize Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
It’s a rowdy but highly competent unit that Jackson joins. Ben and Yoni are the lead and exec, respectively; Ayal is explosives; Jonah and Dov supply muscle and brains along with Levi, who also handles comm capabilities. And then there are Zivah and Dani — the only women on the team. But don’t underestimate them; the last guy who had the temerity to tangle with Dani is now well and truly dead.
After the IDF forces execute their surgical strikes, the Iranians lash out at the U.S. Navy stationed offshore, sending 48 deadly missiles streaking toward the USS George Washington and her battle group. It’s a near thing, but the projectiles are swatted summarily from the skies and the Iranians are red-faced and fuming, though now largely impotent after being worked over by the combined military might of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a swarm of fiery air support.
This is Tom Clancy-style adventure at its heart-pounding best, packed with plenty of knowledgeable references to current ordnance, weaponry and ubiquitous acronyms: CIWS (Close In Weapons Systems), AAWC (Anti-Air War Coordinator), and SAM (Surface to Air Missile), to name but a few.
Meanwhile, a covert Iranian operation known only as “Cyrus” is quietly getting underway on a series of remote cattle ranches in Nevada, Oregon and Texas. What are these decidedly illegal aliens up to? A battalion-sized force has been smuggled over time onto U.S. soil with a single objective in mind: inflict maximum damage to the Great Satan’s infrastructure.
What can Jackson and his team do to thwart this unprecedented invasion? While Beltway bureaucrats whine about not violating any civil rights in the hunt for these 500 battle-hardened Iranian soldiers, incalculable damage is done in their first carefully planned act of destruction.
The author brings to bear what clearly is a wealth of knowledge about just how America might respond to such a threat. His narrative is rich with been-there-done-that military allusions and incredibly detailed lingo about combat operations.
It’s a story that’s as relevant as today’s headlines and vividly points up just how vulnerable the U.S. is to another 9/11-style attack — although this is not a terrorist action. It’s what might conceivably happen if a determined foreign foe decides to wreak havoc on our sovereign shores.
And buckle up for the cinematic last few chapters. You won’t believe the Bruce-Willis-movie-calibre ending with righteous justice served up in true Special Forces fashion.
Five stars to The Gambit. Anyone who’s ever spent time in the armed services will feel right at home with the dialogue and kick-butt consequences that would await anyone foolish enough to threaten the U.S. mainland in such a manner.
The Slave Boy by Murray Lee Eiland Jr.
You won’t believe who the Slave Boy turns out to be in the end.
More swashbuckling adventure awaits readers of this excellent sixth installment of the Orfeo Saga. In this thrilling tale, Daryush’s young friend Cyrus seeks excitement in the worst way — and that’s exactly what he finds.
Cyrus drags former comrade-in-arms Balik along with him as he travels to the lands governed by King Elazar. Then, through an unhappy encounter with the King’s ill-tempered wife, who is trying to escape, the two adventure-seekers wind up in chains.
But nothing holds the two intrepid travelers down for long. In a memorable fight of one against eight, Cyrus dispatches the heavily armed guards and frees not only his friend Balik, but all eighteen other slaves as well. They quickly melt into the surrounding hills.
Meanwhile, a particularly odious character named Asok, a minor prince in those parts, has his heart set on marrying a beautiful but willful young woman named Sharmilla. Determined to escape her fate, however, she dons a disguise and escapes, much to the wrath of her would-be suitor.
Cyrus and his cadre of ragtag warriors join up with a local army, where he rises quickly to command a troop of one hundred men. For his valiant actions, he is accorded the dubious honor of escorting the general’s sister through brigand-infested hills to her home in Talo Duro — many dangerous days’ away.
One night Cyrus is scouting near the camp for lurking attackers when he feels an arrow whiz by his ear. It’s a nearly fatal miss — thwarted at the last second by a dedicated slave boy standing behind Cyrus. The boy, in tears at the near-loss of his new master, is awarded a privileged place in Cyrus’ retinue.
There’s more than meets the eye here as Cyrus rushes back to camp to ready for an imminent attack. It’s high treachery that threatens to overwhelm the 20-man escort, and Cyrus lays his strategy carefully.
This marvelous book moves quickly from one precarious — yet unpredictable — situation to another. Cyrus and Balik get more than they bargained for as the adventures abound, and they finally see the lovely Arya — the general’s wife — safely to her home.
Later, through a plot twist so unexpected it will amaze you, Cyrus ascends to a position of high leadership in a city under siege. His exploits in defending the beleaguered citizenry and — more importantly — their beautiful queen, are the stuff of legends.
The Orfeo saga is a truly epic collection of tales brought vividly to life by gifted storyteller Murray Lee Eiland, Jr. and this singular narrative — while not really connected with Orfeo himself — nevertheless acquits itself admirably and takes a proud position of prominence in the popular canon.
Five-plus stars to The Slave Boy and its ingenious author.
Reverence by Joshua Landeros
The final action sequence is epic.
It’s April 4, 2065. Much of what formerly was the United States is in smoking ruins, the victim not of intercontinental war, but of extreme, bloody civil unrest.
In the Oval Office, now just a museum piece, Chancellor Carl Venloran is remembering a speech he delivered before thousands of frenzied supporters twenty years before at the Lincoln Memorial. He spoke of restoring America’s dignity and the perils of corporate outsourcing and the terrible price paid by wounded war veterans.
If all this sounds disturbingly familiar, it’s through the brilliant efforts of first-time author Joshua Aaron Landeros, who has penned a grisly but compelling portrait of a nation — and a world — transformed by a lust for absolute power and control.
Venloran’s United Nation Republic, now the ruling entity that has absorbed many formerly free nations, keeps an uneasy peace in place with brute force, delivered by superhuman cyborg enforcers who carry swashbuckling 1860s-style sabres. They think nothing of dismembering anyone who is an active — and threatening — member of the self-styled rebellion movement.
This dynamite foray into post-apocalyptic fiction is spun with a deft authorial hand that reads at times like a movie script or a vivid, ultra-violent video game. And through much of the mayhem, two amiable but very dangerous androids — Will and Luis — wisecrack their way through insurrections and assassination attempts.
Indeed, most of the novel is liberally laced with combat terms and military lingo that should readily appeal to anyone who loves to read — or watch — a Ramboesque series of terribly realistic action sequences. Seriously, they’re very, very good.
But at the heart of the story lies the futuristic conflict of man versus man — or, perhaps, cyborg versus man — in scenarios where you’ll wonder who the bad guys are. Will and Luis, for all their superior strength and android implants, still come across as sympathetic, vulnerable — yet very deadly — characters. And no less sympathetic are the members of the resistance — Gabby, Neal, Jacob, and others.
The skillful development of these players in the overarching plotline gives this novel incredible depth and breadth that carries it far above others in its genre. And the central story that drives the book provides a worthy backdrop for unlimited action and suspense.
The final action sequence is epic. Here’s a little passage to whet your appetite:
“Our battle is at last at hand. You will be the greatest opponent I have ever faced. After you, life once again becomes dull.”
Five stars to Reverence. Readers will come away exhausted by the nonstop explosive action and satisfied by the climactic conclusion.