The Power of Twitter

Twitter works! It is an unbelievably powerful promotional tool. I am a believer. I also know that just about everyone in the world has discovered this relatively new fact of life before I did.

I am not a social media sort of person. This blog was created as a means of testing the social media world and learning a little about it as I go along. I do have a Twitter account that I use to announce a new blog entry, and don’t do much else with it outside of following a few sites that interest me.

One of the Twitter accounts I do follow is David Morrell, the author of First Blood, which introduced the original Rambo character. David Morrell is a legend in the thriller community. I have heard him speak, and read some of his work. I was impressed. He has a very intellectual approach to his writing, and shares his expertise in a very engaging manner. I suggest reading Morrell if you want to see a master writer at work.

Recently, David Morrell tweeted that “And the great spy novelist Charles McCarry THE TEARS OF AUTUMN died recently.” As an aspiring thriller writer, I was embarrassed to admit to myself that I was not familiar with McCarry at all, and I had never heard of THE TEARS OF AUTUMN, so I marched to my local library, which is a member of a very large library system. There were several copies of THE TEARS OF AUTUMN in the system, but all were recently withdrawn. The system noted there were a number of requests for the book pending. I placed my name on the list. After about a month I am still waiting for these copies to be returned, and I am still pretty low on the waiting list. I was able to withdraw a very well-used copy of a Charles McCarry book, OLD BOYS. This was not his most popular book, but it  is still pretty darned good.

I wanted to say thanks to David Morrell for alerting me to this author. I am looking forward to reading THE TEARS OF AUTUMN, but I fear that will be some time in the future. I also wanted to say thanks to Twitter for moving me to action. In my local, limited universe, there was a lot of demand for McCarry’s work. Undoubtedly, a huge demand nationwide and even worldwide has now been generated. All due to a tweet from a respected writer. That tweet moved me, and a whole lot of other people as well. A powerful force!

Thanks again to David Morrell (and Twitter) for leading me to a great writer I would have missed. I’ll be posting my review of OLD BOYS shortly.

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Review of “The Eighth Sister” by Robert Dugoni

Eighth Sister

Author: Robert Dugoni

Publication Date: 2019

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

ISBN: 13: 9781503903036 (hardcover)

Agent: Jane Rotrosen Agency

Source of Book: NetGalley

Blurb:

Former CIA case officer Charles Jenkins is a man at a crossroads: in his early sixties, he has a family, a new baby on the way, and a security consulting business on the brink of bankruptcy. Then his former bureau chief shows up at his house with a risky new assignment: travel undercover to Moscow and locate a Russian agent believed to be killing members of a clandestine US spy cell known as the seven sisters.

Desperate for money, Jenkins agrees to the mission and heads to the Russian capital. But when he finds the mastermind agent behind the assassinations—the so-called eighth sister—she is not who or what he was led to believe. Then again, neither is anyone else in this deadly game of cat and mouse.

Pursued by a dogged Russian intelligence officer, Jenkins executes a daring escape across the Black Sea, only to find himself abandoned by the agency he serves. With his family and freedom at risk, Jenkins is in the fight of his life—against his own country.

(Source of Blurb: Author Website)

Review:

The Eighth Sister is a well written espionage thriller. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The best part was the first half of the book, in which the protagonist, Charles Jenkins, travels to Russia to take part in a clandestine operation. The mission is not what he was led to believe, and he must improvise in order to escape Russia and the dogged Russian FSB agent assigned to track him down. The cat and mouse between Jenkins and the Russian agent makes for very good reading and is difficult to put down. The chase is very realistic, and the fact that Charles Jenkins is an agent around 60 years of age with deteriorating but still formidable operational skills is a refreshing twist.

My only criticism involves the second half of the book, when Jenkins arrives home. At that point, it turns into a legal thriller rather than an espionage story. It is a very well done legal thriller, but the second half involves a lot of courtroom preparation and legal maneuvering rather than a traditional espionage story. It was still very enjoyable , just not what I expected. To me, this was a very novel story structure, and it worked.

I could see this book becoming a movie. The juxtaposition between the action scenes in the first half of the book and the courtroom drama in the second half of the book would play out very well on the screen.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://www.robertdugonibooks.com/

Purchase Link:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07D6PZ6P1/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

 

 

 

 

News–Some Observations

I have tried not to get political on this blog, and I intend to keep it that way. I do want to make a few  comments that are only loosely related to thriller writing and reviewing.

I try to keep relatively informed on current events. I believe a good touch of current events makes a thriller more relevant, and more compelling that way. I noticed a few problems with the news, at least how I seek it.

My issue is with CNN and Fox News. I first noticed this after watching a presidential debate during the run-up to our most recent presidential election. I watched the debate and then looked at the commentary, first on CNN, then on Fox. I wondered if I had watched the same debate. I sensed a complete lack of objectivity on each of the two networks. What was presented as “analysis” was really “spin”. CNN spun it one way, and Fox, the other way. Since then, I looked a little closer to each of these networks, particularly their website. I believe both networks tell the “truth”, but they certainly select what they say with a careful agenda. Maybe I was the last one on the planet to notice.

I believe we have a “free” press, but I don’t believe we have an “objective” press, at least not in some of the sites I follow on a regular basis. If the current administration does something wrong, or incorrect, I know CNN will let us all know about it. If the “left” does something wrong, Fox will let us know. This is, of course, what a free press is all about, and I am very thankful we have that. I have seen situations where the press is not free.  I believe the free press is one of the necessary conditions for an effective democracy, or any other form of effective government. I would like to find a site I could trust to present the news without the spin, the selective inclusion, or the not-so-hidden agenda.

As it is now, I believe people who are leaning towards conservatism, will seek out conservative media and harden their positions. On the other hand, people with liberal leanings will look at liberal media and harden their positions. This will stifle discourse and debate and harden everyone’s positions. A bad state of affairs, coupled with the fact that computer search engines will compound this problem by leading a searcher to what the search engine decides they would like to hear. People leaning to the right will be directed to right-leaning media. People leaning to the left will be directed to left-leaning media. Positions will become even more hardened.

Let’s keep the press free, but hope for some objectivity in the mix. It has been a long time since I heard anyone say “I changed my position on that based on reading…”

Review of “The Terminal List” by Jack Carr

 

The Terminal List

Author:  Jack Carr (joint pseudonym)

Publication Date: March 2018

Publisher: First Emily Betsler Books / Atria Books

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8081-1

Agent: Alexandria Machinist

Source of Book: Borrowed from local library

Blurb:

On his last deployment as a Navy Seal, Lieutenant Commander James Reece’s entire team was killed in a catastrophic ambush that also claimed the lives of the aircrew sent in to rescue them. But when those dearest to him are murdered on the day of his homecoming, Reece discovers that this was not an act of war by a foreign enemy but a conspiracy that runs to the highest levels of his own government. They have taken everything from him. Now it’s his turn.

With nothing left to lose, Reece applies lessons learned in more than a decade of constant warfare toward avenging the death of his family and teammates. In a thriller told with breathless pacing and relentless suspense, Reece ruthlessly targets his enemies in Washington’s upper echelons without regard for the laws of combat or the rules of law.

Driven by the love of his family and country and an undying need for revenge, James Reece is on a one-man mission to confront the corruption of absolute power and those who would do anything to achieve it.

(Source of Blurb: inside dust cover)

Review:

This book is riveting. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I highly recommend this debut novel. It is masterful.

While I find the ex-Navy Seal superhero main character is a little overused in today’s thriller market, this one is very well done. Steve Berry writes a blurb on the back of the dust cover “Double the trouble, twice the action, and quadruple the enjoyment. Careful while reading this, it could leave a mark.” Consider me marked. This tale of revenge and righteous violence struck a chord with me. I found it emotionally engaging, powerfully written, and surprising in its depth. I am not a  weapons or tactics expert, but I would guess Jack Carr has his weapons and tactics presented with the highest possible level of accuracy. His detail is astounding, but not at all overwhelming to this non-technical reader. Carr has a great story to tell here. It is sufficiently anchored in reality to frighten the reader. The story has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and the suspense continues until the very last page.

My only criticism is a very tiny one. I found the bad guys a little bit too evil to be believable. Once you buy into the bad guys, however, there is a really clever, emotionally complex story.

I also posted this review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://officialjackcarr.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Terminal-List-Thriller-Jack-Carr-ebook/dp/B074ZL7LY1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Terminal+list&qid=1550936793&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Review of “The Korean Woman” by John Altman

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 2.45.13 PM

The “Korean Woman” is a very well-crafted 2019 thriller from John Altman. The plot revolves around the activation of a “sleeper” spy from North Korea. The “Korean Woman” is living a very contented life in New York City, having been married and is in the process of raising children. This is something of a domestic thriller, but not entirely. On the surface, this sounds like a very implausible plot, but Altman is very successful in developing this character and her motivation. If you are a reader looking for a strong female character, “The Korean woman” delivers. The strongest part of the story involves a chase by a group of Central Intelligence Agency spooks, using all sorts of high-tech equipment, but the spy manages to elude them using low-tech methods. I am reminded of an old movie, “Lonely are the Brave” in which a criminal is being pursued by the authorities with almost unlimited resources. In that movie, the viewer winds up rooting for the criminal. Altman takes this premise in a different direction, and does it very well. He has some pretty good twists up his sleeve along the way.

I was a little less impressed with the character development of the Central Intelligence Agency pursuers, however. They were not as well developed, particularly the character named Bach. I also was not a fan of the ending of the book, largely due to the undeveloped characters among the pursuers of “The Korean Woman.” I think this book could be a lot stronger with better development of the characters pursuing the spy.

If you enjoy a good chase scenario with a small taste of domestic thriller, this book will provide that for you.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from NetGalley.

Writing–The Plot Matrix

It’s been a while since I have written about writing. It’s been very slow.

I had a first draft of my novel written some time ago. I wasn’t very happy with it. My foray into the world of thriller reviewing gave me a lot of ways I could improve the novel. You learn a lot by reading the work of successful writers. My plot could be a lot less complex.  The stakes in the novel could be a lot higher. The characters could be a lot less flat and better developed. Too few of the characters were female. This is probably a vestige of old thrillers that I have read along the way. Any new thriller needs to have at least one strong female character or it won’t get too far in the publishing world, and will cut down on the potential market. My continual reading about the craft of writing also showed me in no uncertain terms that my writing could be a lot better. I delayed diving into the second draft. The demon of lack of self-confidence manifested itself. Now I believe I am ready.

In order to get things moving, I created what I call a plot matrix. It is a simple two-dimensional outline. The vertical part of the matrix is chronology, a time order when things happen in the novel. The horizontal element of the matrix is by character and character grouping. I can see at a “glance” what each character is doing or not doing at a specific point in time.   Right now it has over 40 rows.  Each row represents a particular point in time, and 15 columns, each with a character or character group. This way I can see the sequence of things, and determine who is doing what and when they are doing it. The more complex it gets, however the more difficult it is to see what is happening.

I learned some things by doing this.

Some of my chronology was not logical. Things were out of order, and it wasn’t clear how some situations came to be. Some of the events could be relegated to backstory.

I had too many characters. Some may have been unnecessary. I could collapse some of the characters.

I spent a lot of time and mental energy doing this matrix. I still don’t feel it is perfect. There are several inconsistencies remaining. I do feel I have a starting point for the writing of the second draft, however. I can see which of the old scenes can remain as is, which scenes need to be revised in order to enrich the characters or support the new, higher stakes plot, and which scenes can be trashed. There appears to be a path through the woods, but many weeds, thorn bushes, and predatory animals remain along the way.

Paralysis had me for a while. Insecurities abound, and I have found many excuses to do other things than move forward with the second draft. The matrix is providing a way, and giving me some hope about moving forward. I need to make sure the matrix doesn’t constrain me, and that if I get a great idea about the plot or the characters as I move forward, I can have some fun with it.

We’ll see how it goes.

A Review of a “Bad” Book

Should I ever write a bad review?

This question has haunted me for some time now. I usually finish every book I start, but I had one book that just didn’t grab me. I won’t name it. I don’t believe it was a “bad” book, it just “wasn’t for me.” It was a thriller, by a very famous author who has been writing for a very long time and REALLY knows how to write. In fact, this book most likely achieved a level of market success that a writer like me could only dream about. The first three chapters were a prologue, and each chapter briefly and poignantly discussed a different aspect of the Nazi reign of terror prior to World War II. These were fantastic chapters, and made me anxious to read more. Once I got past the prologue, things went downhill for me. I found the book jumpy, and the characters were not well developed at all. I couldn’t finish it. The most likely reason for this was that the book was the third part of a trilogy, and I never read the first two. I didn’t know it was a trilogy until I was well into it. Probably the characters were very well developed in the earlier novels in the trilogy.

My question is should I ever write a review of a book that I didn’t like? Would it do anyone any good. On the “yes” side of the argument, words like “journalistic integrity”, “truth”, and “honesty” cross my mind. I believe it is the job of a reviewer to point out the good and the bad. Absent that, the review becomes simply a form of “free” promotion for the author.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no desire to hurt anyone. I have no delusions that my review would do any harm whatsoever to the well-established author referred to above who was guilty of nothing more than penning a novel that this insignificant reviewer did not like.  Words do hurt, however, and the last thing I would ever want to do is harm an author that was publishing a novel for the first time and is very sensitive to any feedback, good or bad. My own insecurities as a reviewer come into play here as well. My personal review may not be “accurate” or “well-informed.” I may not have even read the novel with as much attention as it deserved. I have learned that writers need to have a very thick skin, but I do not want to be the one to test anyone’s skin thickness. Not yet, anyway. If I REALLY don’t like a book, I will probably not write about it here.

In the meantime, I will probably not publish a lot of completely negative reviews. I will try to focus on where the book could be improved or itemize parts of the book that didn’t work for me.