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Operation Napoleon, by Arnaldur Indridason »

operation napoleon - Arnaldur IndridasonOperation Napoleon is a stand-alone novel – that is, not one of the books in Indridason’s acclaimed series about Reykjavik detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson. It was actually the third novel written Arnaldur Indridason, and followed the first two of his Reykjavik Murder Mysteries.

Operation Napoleon is a thriller set in Iceland. It begins ominously with a German bomber on a clandestine mission in 1945, during the last months of the Second World War. But this is no ordinary mission. Strangely, senior American officers are traveling along with German officers in a joint operation of some kind. Then the plane – a large Junker – is caught in a storm over Iceland, and the plane crashes at the Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier.

Before the rescue team could get there, the plane was completely buried on the glacier, as if it had been swallowed by the ice masses. A piece of the plane that was found, confirmed what witnesses stated, namely that the plane was German.

Obviously the plane carries a secret of some importance. Partly there is the strange fact that both Americans and Germans were aboard it. Partly the Americans secretly mount several attempts to find and rescue the plane from the base at Keflavik. Partly the Americans keep monitoring the glacier continuously – all the way up to 1999, when the action in the book takes place.

When a satellite image shows that the aircraft has surfaced again, due to shifting ice and melting on the glacier, a top-secret American military team is dispatched to salvage the wreck and bring it out of the country. The team is led by a brute named Ratoff, a master planner. However, this time his plan meets with unforeseen obstacles…

Arnaldur IndridasonOperation Napoleon is a fast-paced thriller that is quite enjoyable. It has that certain something which makes Arnaldur Indridason such a great writer – and so it actually is a bit of a page turner. However, it is quite far from the best among Arnaldur Indridason‘s books. The plot is interesting with some neat twists, but the characters are a little too fantastic, quite one-dimensional, and the heroes/heroines much too lucky. Also, the book is quite unrealistic and a tad black and white in its outlook. Even so – it is an Indridason, and quite entertaining, especially if you suspend your disbelief and just sit down to enjoy!

Praise for Operation Napoleon:

“Gripping. . . . As political thrillers go, Operation Napoleon––its frozen secrets, ruthless killers, hapless victims and reluctant heroes––is about the best you can get.”
Telegraph-Journal

“Indriðason, one of the new breed of bestselling Scandinavian crime writers, has written another gripping thriller set in his native Iceland.”
The Peterborough Examiner

“Slick . . . and with enough chases to keep the reader turning the pages.”
The Independent

Death of Kings (Saxon Tales), by Bernard Cornwell »

Death of Kings, Bernard Cornwell

Death of Kings is the sixth in Bernard Cornwell’s excellent historical fiction series `The Saxon Tales‘, which tells the fascinating story of Lord Uthred, a mighty Viking warrior who fought on the side of Alfred against the Viking invasion of England. I started reading the series when it was initially launched and have followed it ever since. It is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting historical fiction series ever written.

Death of Kings is set in the period around 900 AD, close to the end of King Alfred’s reign. We follow the smart Lord Uthred as Alfred’s life is about to end and England moves into a period of intensified conflict. There are many in the kingdom that want the throne that Alfred is about to vacate, and England is on the brink of chaos. Uthred knows all the players, and he can see how they form alliances and move around in preparation for battle.

King Alfred was – in many ways – the founder of modern England. His dream and vision was to lay the foundations of a united `Angelcynn’ through military strength, the preservation of the Saxon culture and the English language. His Christian faith was also a major driving force in this most ambitious endeavor. But his enemies, the Viking lords, were formidable opponents, and in reality held more English territory than Alfred.

In Death of Kings the question is not only whether the royalists will be able to fend off the Vikings and their allies, but also whether Alfred’s son Edward will be able to build a coalition strong enough to seize and hold on to the throne. In the end, it will all be decided on the battlefield, by the song of the swords and the competence of the commanders.

Death of Kings describes an extremely interesting period in English history – both exciting and historically important. Bernard Cornwell has an incredible ability to mix historical facts with fiction in ways that both entertain and educate the reader. Lord Uthred is without doubt one of the most complex and fascinating characters of modern historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found it very, very hard to put down. Death of Kings – and the series as a whole – is a must for lovers of historical fiction.

Praise:

A harrowing story of the power of tribal commitment and the dilemma of divided loyalties, Death of Kings is the latest chapter in the epic saga of the making of England, magnificently brought to life by “the reigning king of historical fiction” (USA Today).

“[Cornwell] has been described as a master of historical fiction, but that may be an understatement. Cornwell makes his subject material come alive. Better, his major protagonist is totally believable and human.” (Robert Conroy, Library Journal)

“History comes alive.” (Boston Globe)

“As expected, the warfare is ferociously bloody, the sacrilege pointedly barbed, and the story expertly paced. Heck, we’d even extol Uhtred’s budding spells of sober reflection about life and love—if we weren’t certain he’d slice an ear off for saying so.” (Entertainment Weekly for Sword Song)

Bleachers, by John Grisham »

Bleachers, John GrishamJohn Grisham is known primarily for his legal thrillers. Rightfully so, in my opinion. His legal thrillers are great. One reason why they are great is that John Grisham is an excellent story teller. So, while his non-legal-thrillers may not be quite as good as his legal thrillers, I have found that I like several of them a lot. Many of them are, in my opinion, underrated. And Bleachers is one of the books that I think falls into this category.

Bleachers tells the story of high school All-American Neely Crenshaw. He was without doubt the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Now fifteen years have gone by since those glorious days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the legendary coach who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty.

Now, as Coach Rake’s “boys” sit in the bleachers waiting for the dimming field lights to signal his passing, they replay the old games, relive the old glories, and try to decide once and for all whether they love Eddie Rake – or hate him. For Neely Crenshaw, a man who has hated Eddie Rake intensely for one and a half decades, and who has never returned to his home town because of his intense hatred, the stakes are especially high.

Bleachers is a wonderfully told novel. John Grisham departs again from the legal thriller to tell a character-driven tale of reunion, broken high school dreams, and missed chances in a subdued and somewhat mellow fashion. I loved the story – it made tears run down my cheeks while I read it. I think one reason why this book is under-rated is that it most likely will be loved most by readers who don’t usually read John Grisham: People who like good old-fashioned “storytellers” and novels that take them on a sentimental journey. Feel-good novels. And that’s what Bleachers is: A nice, easy to read, entertaining, all-American feel-good novel. A solid one.

Resurrection Men, by Ian Rankin »

Resurrection men, Ian RankinI love to read excellent crime fiction. And reading Ian Rankin really fits the bill. Almost all of his books are outstanding – cleverly plotted, intriguing mysteries, evocative descriptions, well-drawn characters and last, but by no means least: funny, at times hilarious, and often LOL dialogues.

Resurrection Men is among the best books written by this wonderful crime fiction author. Here the cranky and unorthodox Edinburgh police detective Rebus is finally punished for once again crossing the line. Even though this time it seems pretty innocent compared to what the man is capable of, his transgression was directed squarely at his superior officer. Literally. This time, frustrated over lacking progress with an investigation, he throws a cup of tea at his superior Gill Templar.

So now he finds himself at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan. He has been sent there with five other miscreants for insubordination. “Tulliallan,” Rankin writes, “was their last-chance saloon. They were here to atone, to be resurrected.” “Retraining”, that was what is what it was called. Boring days with lots of silly new notions of “modern” police work, the importance of team building, and similar stuff of little interest to Rebus.

However, the police brass has their own agenda for Rebus. They suspect some of his fellow resurrection men of being bent – of having stolen a big pot of cash after a raid and possibly of being on the take, as well. Now his mission is try to infiltrate the group and find evidence. Which, of course, is slightly easier said than done! How do you get inside a tightly knit group of corrupt officers who have something to hide? Why would they let anybody in? It seems the bosses once more have unloaded a seemingly impossible mission on Rebus. Do they want him to fail? Or – could it be that it is Rebus they really are after, and not the others? For Rebus has his own dirty little secrets to protect, and were they to surface, there would be no resurrection for Rebus!

Resurrection Men is an outstanding crime fiction, full of the oblique dialogue that is so characteristic of Ian Rankin at his wonderful best. The pace is just right, the mystery convoluted and ambiguous, and Rebus’ trial and error tactics utterly delightful. Mixed into the blend are the usual evocative reports from shady Edinburgh and the sudden moments of touching warmth so characteristic of Rankin. Resurrection Men is a great read and a most deserving winner of the Edgar Award!

Damage, by Josephine Hart »

Damage, by Josephine Hart

A while ago my wife told me I had to read a novel she had read a few years ago and for some reason had kept (she usually gives away the books she reads). The novel was Damage, a short novel, only a little more than 200 pages long. She was – as she most often is – completely right, it really was a “must read”: A short novel that makes a big and lasting impression.

In sparse prose, Damage tells the tale of a middle aged English physician and later member of the British parliament who becomes obsessed with his son’s girlfriend. The story is told in the first person by Stephen Fleming, the father. He lives a life that from the outside seems happy and privileged with his beautiful and understanding wife Ingrid and his two children. Then he accidentally meets his son’s new girlfriend Anna Barton at a party. The attraction is powerful, immediate, overwhelming, and mutual. It will forever change his life.

Damage doesn’t tell an attractive and beautiful story. It’s not a love story, it isn’t pretty nor is it amusing or funny: This is a tale about fatal attraction, deceit and treachery. It is also a tale of desire and domination. I found the story shocking, strange, and at times almost repulsive yet oddly fascinating. Mind-blowing is perhaps, in this case, an apt description. The highly respected father pursues a relationship with his son’s girlfriend that turns him into a driven, irrational man. It is a relationship that never really moves out of the bedroom, yet one which is – as it must be – tremendously consequential.

The ending is shocking and tragic. It could hardly be otherwise – it is not a relationship of a type destined to create happiness all around – but it could perhaps have been somewhat less tragic. I was utterly fascinated by the book and found it almost spellbinding. The spare, almost terse style – totally lacking of emotion or sentiment – makes the exceptional drama in Damage stand out in all its compulsive and driven splendor. It’s a dark and strange book – quite gloomy – that I strongly recommend.

The Horizon, by Douglas Reeman »

The Horizon, by Douglas ReemanThe Horizon is the third volume of Douglas Reeman’s Blackwood series. It is set in the years 1914-1918. We meet Captain Jonathan Blackwood as he and the Royal Marines attempt to adapt to the new deadly ways of warfare in World War I.

Jonathan is a Royal Marine from a long line of Royal Marines. For three generations, members of the Blackwood family have served in the Royal Marines with distinction – two of them have won the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valor in combat in the British Empire.

But World War I is, as Reeman aptly describes it in The Horizon, different. There are no longer, it seems, any rules. There is no room for honor and tradition. With modern weapons and technological advances, the nature of war itself has changed. The battlefields are like slaughterhouses – with cannons, mortars and howitzers roaring, soldiers digging down and building trenches, and machine guns and snipers always present, the new type of war is one of stalemates.

We follow Jonathan as he embarks for the Dardanelles to take part in an allied campaign there, and follow him from the battle cruiser that brought them there, into the battlefield. Tens of thousands of soldiers die – both on the Allied and the Turkish side – and the conditions are extremely difficult. There is still room for bravery, but it is very costly to be brave now.

Jonathan is brave, and he leads his man in a difficult and dangerous assault, achieves the objective, but is severely wounded. He returns to England as a hero and becomes the third man in his family to receive the Victoria Cross. In the end however, it was all for nothing – the bravery, the many dead – the Allied campaign was a total failure. Nothing was achieved – after losing a quarter of a million soldiers; the Allied were forced to withdraw.

After recovering from his wounds, Jonathan is sent to a newly activated battalion of Royal Marines bound for the Western Front. Now it is 1917 and the vast majority of the British Army is located in France and Flanders. Here on the Western Front the same challenges face Jonathan as at Gallipoli – the losses of men due to enemy snipers, raids and assaults that are expected to gain miles of ground and end up gaining only yards, if that.

The Horizon is an excellent tale of World War I, different from, but in some ways almost as good as, All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Douglas Reeman (a k a Alexander Kent) has captured the despair, the smell of rotting corpses and the sucking mud, as well as the tragic consequences of applying old fashioned military thinking to an entirely new situation. I strongly recommend The Horizon. It is one of the very best novels from World War I. A powerful book.

Review: The Delta Solution, Patrick Robinson »

The Delta SolutionThe Somali pirates have amazed me for quite some time: How is it possible for pirates to be successful the way they are in the year 2011? How can they succeed over time – with the sky full of spy satellites, with sophisticated sensors and electronics equipment, and lightning speed communications and precision weapons? Granted, the Indian Ocean is big, but even so? It seems to me they can only go on with their business because the civilized nations are too soft on them and because we don’t take them seriously enough.

The Delta Solution, by New York Times bestselling thriller writer Patrick Robinson, is based on similar premises. It’s an interesting thriller that develops a scenario where the Somalian pirates expand their “business” to a point where they are, finally, taken seriously. So seriously that the US military chiefs decide to set up a special SEAL force to deal with piracy. The book reminds me a lot of Frederick Forsyth’s Cobra (which deals with stopping the cocaine trade) – both writers have taken a serious problem, done lots of research, and tried to figure out if it was possible to actually solve the problem and what a solution would require in terms of resources and commitment. And both Patrick Robinson and Frederick Forsyth – in my opinion – have come up with reasonable answers which they have “fictionalized” into good and clever thrillers.

The Delta Solution is very good at describing the organization of the pirate trade – whether it is correct or not, I don’t know – but it is fascinating regardless! The pirates are described as professionals that believe what they do is good for the society they live in and are excellent at what they are doing. The organization and infrastructure, as well as their equipment, is generally quite good, and the planning and execution of their captures excellent. They have a large network of informants, they get good intelligence, they execute well and they cash in huge sums of money. The brain behind it all is Mohammed “the Godfather of the Dark Continent” Salat, who provides funding, equipment and intelligence.

The owners and insurance companies pay the ransoms. For them, the choice is simple: Pay a few million dollars or lose a huge sum, often hundreds of millions. But every time it happens, more people get upset: ship owners, insurance companies and governments. And when the US Navy is blamed in the media for not preventing the hijacks or for saving ships that have been captured, they get upset too.

Now the US Navy decides to put an end to piracy in Somalia. To achieve this, they set up a brand new anti-piracy force: A SEAL team headed by the legendary Commander Mack Bedford. Their mission is to rescue, but also to wipe out the pirate headquarters and rid the world of the East African pirates.

The Delta Solution is an intelligent, well-researched and quite suspenseful thriller. The only complaint I have is that I felt the build-up towards SEAL action took a little too long. Even so, I very much enjoyed reading it. Patrick Robinson knows his trade, and he is good at telling interesting stories. The Delta Solution is a good and entertaining read!

Praise for The Delta Solution:

“The high-action thriller lives on. .. An instant, surefire classic that is not to be missed.”
—Jon Land, bestselling author of Strong Justice

“Readers will cheer as Mack and his team solve the vexing problem of Somali pirates.”
Publisher’s Weekly

George R.R. Martin: A Dance with Dragons! »

George R.R. Martin

The long awaited fifth volume in George R.R. Martin’s outstanding fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire is now available for at Amazon. It is titled A Dance with Dragons.

A Dance with Dragons brings both familiar faces and surprising new forces that vie for a foothold in a fragmented empire.

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again–beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone–a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .

Wonderful news for all fans of George R. R. Martin!!

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson »

Warbreaker is a standalone fantasy novel by the talented and acclaimed Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen to write the final volumes for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. It follows his very well received Mistborn-series, and is a wonderful read!

Warbreaker, Brandon SandersonWarbreaker tells the story of two sisters, two princesses, Vivenna and Siri. They are the children of the king of the rebel state Idris, which is threatened by its bigger and more powerful neighbor state, Hallandren. The older sister has been promised as a bride to the God King of Hallandren as part of a treaty made to preserve peace.

Hallandren and Idris have been estranged for 300 years over political and religious differences. The kingdom of Hallandren is rich, colorful and worships living gods – so called “returned”. Magic is abundant in this kingdom, but it is a scientific kind of magic. The basis for it is known as Breath – a kind of life force that each and every individual has, but which scientists have found a way of transferring. People who have been able to gain access to many Breaths – tens or hundreds – acquire new abilities. The system is referred to as a biochromatic system of magic.

Now war is looming, and tiny Idris is very likely to lose the war against the mighty Hallandren and its biochromatic power. The two sisters, both working from within the capital of Hallandren, each in her own way, try to prevent the war from happening. Gradually they are both, in different ways, drawn into dark and dangerous webs of intrigues, treachery, plots, and deceit. Time after time they find that things are very different from what they seem and that there are unknown forces at work that they cannot identify or understand – and soon they will both have to fight for their lives to survive.

Warbreaker is an excellent and very well-written fantasy book with an intriguing and rich plot. The story grabbed me early on and held me to the final page. I found it fascinating as well as suspenseful and interesting. It is full of romance, dark intrigue, and dangerous magic and intriguing characters. Warbreaker reads a bit like a thriller. Sanderson is able to meld a complex, huge story with believable characters and a twisting plot into an extraordinary novel that is very entertaining and quite suspenseful.

Praise for Warbreaker:

“Not only has Sanderson drawn a freshly imagined world and its society, he has also given us a plot full of unexpected twists and turns.”—Michael Moorcock

“Epic fantasy heavyweight Sanderson pens a powerful stand-alone tale of unpredictable loyalties, dark intrigue and dangerous magic. . . . Sanderson melds complex, believable characters, a marvelous world and thoughtful, ironic humor into an extraordinary and highly entertaining story.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Warbreaker

“Hilarious dialogue, descriptive action sequences, and genuinely sweet romance. . . . Sanderson knows how to wrap things up cleanly. ”—The Onion on Warbreaker