Review: The Listener by Robert McCammon [audiobook]

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The Listener
By Robert McCammon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You ever finish a wonderful book, but aren't quite sure how to encapsulate your thoughts on it in a review, or what may be left to say after so many others have eloquently tread this same ground and said all the things already? This is the place I find myself in now, having just this morning finished listening to The Listener. This sucker's gotten a lot of positive press and plenty of wonderful reviews already, and I feel like I don't have much else to add. Still, I suppose I must try.

Simply put, Robert McCammon knocks it out of the park with this one. Set in post-Depression Louisiana, The Listener revolves around a kidnapping plot hatched by a pair of grifters who fancy themselves a Bonnie & Clyde duo. Their plan is to abduct the two children of a wealthy industrialist and hold them for ransom. Caught up in it all is Curtis Mayhew, a young black man with a supernatural gift. Curtis is a listener, and can communicate telepathically with others who share this special gift. He's been communicating with a ten-year-old girl, Nilla, and when she sends an urgent cry for help about a man with a gun, Curtis knows he has to help, damn the consequences.

The Listener is a slow-burn potboiler that places particular emphasis on its characters first and foremost. McCammon is meticulous and deliberate in his pacing, introducing us to each of the major players and their places in the world as they work to either scheme or merely eek out a living before becoming embroiled in this kidnapping. Each of these character's stories are paid off in beautiful and sometimes surprising ways as The Listener reaches it final denouement. This historical narrative is so perfectly constructed that nothing ever feels unnatural or out of place. Readers are eased into Curtis's life and his gift in such a way that, once his telepathy is used to full effect, it's every bit a natural part of the character as the air he breathes.

McCammon's writing is equally effective, his prose rife with lingo of the era, and he captures moments of human drama perfectly. There's humor and moments of sadness, as well as turns of violence that are both shocking and cinematic, and sequences of abuse that will have you ready to lunge out of your seat to restrain the psychopathic Donnie before he can inflict more harm on whoever dares to step near him.

Marc Vietor's voice captures the proceedings perfectly, hitting all the right pitches and tones of McCammon's literary style. His talents as a narrator are well-suited to the 1930s era of The Listener, with its hard-edged con-men and crazed women, as well as the softer, more rounded subtleties of gentle men like Curtis, who prize their brains far more than their fists. Vietor and McCammon make for a perfect pair here, and the audio edition of The Listener is a wonderful, and engrossing, production all around.

McCammon delivers a story that feels wholly authentic from start to finish, and The Listener just might be on the best books of the year. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Night Trade (A Livia Lone Novel Book 2) by Barry Eisler

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Immediately after finishing 2016's Livia Lone, I immediately wanted, no, needed, more of this character. Thankfully, Livia is back for a second round, and The Night Trade proves to be just as rich and compulsively readable as Lone's debut. And much like the first entry, I'm immediately left wanting more.

Picking up a few months after the prior novel's finale, Livia is offered a spot on an anti-trafficking taskforce. She uses this position to ferret out leads on the men who abducted her, and her sister, Nason, as children for use in sex trafficking. Armed with the names of these men, she returns to Thailand, intent on dismantling the trafficking ring responsible for her and Nason's abuse.

Operating his own leads in Thailand is Dox, short for unorthodox, which speaks to his methods as an operator, and a recurring fan-favorite in Eisler's long-running John Rain series. Dox is on the hunt for Rithisak Sorm, a former Khmer Rouge soldier renowned for his torture tactics of sexual abuse, as well as human trafficking.

Needless to say, Dox's and Livia's parallel investigations eventually converge, and while sparks fly the relationship that emerges between these two killers is remarkably tender and fascinating. Dox and Livia are polar opposites, and their differences highlight their commonalities, while also giving us some fresh insight into Livia's nature. Through Dox's point of view, we get to see certain facets of Livia that we've been previously denied, and her characterization grows all the deeper because of it. She's a tough, no-holds-barred, tragically flawed heroine, but we get a better sense of just how fragile she is through her interactions with the boisterous, loud-mouthed Texan. Eisler does a wonderful job bringing them together, and opening up Livia's world a bit more with the angles of international intrigue and governmental subterfuge that have been the hallmarks of his John Rain series.

In only two novels, Livia Lone has become my favorite character in the entirety of Eisler's body of work, and, mind you, he has created some fantastic characters. So much of her is broken, some hastily glued back together, and she never stops fighting, against either her own personal inner demons and the demons that would seek to shatter and destroy others like her. She's a remarkable vigilante, and I'm eager to see what other aspects of her character Eisler is able to uncover for us in future novels.

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Review: Subhuman (Unit 51, #1) by Michael McBride

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Subhuman (A Unit 51 Novel)
By Michael McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After misshapen skulls, all bearing the same deformity and chromosomal irregularities, are discovered in various locations across the globe, a group of disparate researchers are whisked away to a secret research base in the Antarctic where an even more chilling discovery has been made - one that could redefine what we knew about humanity's origin.

I've only read a few previous titles by Michael McBride, and while each were terrific and exciting in their own way, they did little to prepare me for the scope and scientific depth of Subhuman. I have no idea what McBride's background is like, if he's an active scientific researcher or an armchair enthusiast, or just somebody who is able to distill a heck of a lot of information into a cogent story, but it's clear that a heck of a lot of research on a wide range of issues went into this book. I'm used to McBride's thrilling creature feature horror novellas, like the two Snowblind books, so it was really cool to see him stretch out and get comfortable with material more in the vein of Michael Crichton and James Rollins.

While the attention to science, both weird and otherwise, gets high marks, the characters suffer a bit in comparison. For such a large cast, we hardly get to know anybody over the course of 400-some pages beyond their names and affiliations. We have Roche, a former NSA decryption analyst turned UFO hunter; Jade, a war crimes investigator; Kelly, the seismologist; and Richards, the dude funding the whole excavation and fueled by a UFO sighting in his youth. A few other names are bandied about, but they get even less attention than the primaries. Each of the co-leads get a few nice moments to shine, but I never really found a reason to latch onto them.

Despite the shallow characterizations, there's plenty else happening to keep one's attention. I'm a sucker for horror stories that utilize weather extremes (one of the reasons Snowblind caught my eye, in fact), and the colder the better. Subhuman definitely brings the chills, along with a nifty sense of discovery that culminates in an Alien-like bloodbath that left me grinning. The story is a bit of a slow burn while the stage gets set and all the various pieces of scientific anomalies are put into place, but it's all oh so very worthwhile. For the last 100 pages or so, McBride sets the climax to roller-coaster speed, and things get freaking intense fast!

Subhuman marks the debut of McBride's Unit 51 series, and I'm more than ready for book two. Fans of Rollins's Sigma series (or lapsed fan like me looking for something fresh) would do well to check out this title ASAP.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

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Listen to MASS HYSTERIA - If You're Brave Enough! Plus a few other updates...

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On August 15, Mass Hysteria was released in paperback and ebook. Now, it's available in audiobook for your gruesome listening pleasure! Narrated by Joe Hempel, Mass Hysteria can be bought at Audible and iTunes right now! Here's the gist on my crazy, not for the faint of heart horror story:

IT CAME FROM SPACE...

Something virulent. Something evil. Something new. And it is infecting the town of Falls Breath.

Carried to Earth in a freak meteor shower, an alien virus has infected the animals. Pets and wildlife have turned rabid, attacking without warning. Dogs and cats terrorize their owners, while deer and wolves from the neighboring woods hunt in packs, stalking and killing their human prey without mercy.

As the town comes under siege, Lauren searches for her boyfriend, while her policeman father fights to restore some semblance of order against a threat unlike anything he has seen before. The Natural Order has been upended completely, and nowhere is safe.

...AND IT IS SPREADING.

Soon, the city will find itself in the grips of mass hysteria.

To survive, humanity will have to fight tooth and nail.


This edition includes a bonus short story, Consumption!

 

Buy Mass Hysteria

ebook:

Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo

Google Play | Smashwords

Audiobook:

AudibleiTunes


All editions of Mass Hysteria contain the bonus short story ConsumptionConsumption has been available a solo ebook for quite a while now, and that, too, now has a Joe Hempel narrated audiobook companion!

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You Are

Reclusive chef Heinrich Schauer has invited six guests to a blind twelve-course tasting menu.

What You Eat

While snow blankets the isolated Swiss valley surrounding his estate, the guests feast eagerly, challenging one another to guess at the secret tastes plated before them.

This Meat Is Murder

As they eat, each guest is overtaken by carnal appetites, unaware of their host’s savage plans...or of the creature lurking below.One thing is clear: There is more on the menu than any of them have bargained for.

Buy Consumption

eBook:

Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo

Google Play | Smashwords

Audiobook:

Audible | iTunes


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Over on Patreon, I have posted this month's Book of the Month Club title. If you haven't checked out Revolver previously, this one's a doozy! Given the on-going state of political affairs here in the US, aka The Great American Garbage Fire, I suppose in these post-Trump months Revolver could be considered Resistance Fiction or anti-fascist sci-fi. I've written and spoken about this story elsewhere, but one post that gets into the heart of this story and what went into drafting it can be found over at Grim Reader Reviews

Every month I post one of my stories for Patreon supporters to download for $1, so if you're looking for a quick, cheap, and easy way to catch up on my work, that's the place to do it. Patreon supporters have even gotten advanced copies of work before their released elsewhere, such as Mass Hysteria, as well as shorter works like Black Site and Preservation. Go check it out!


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Review: Enemy of the State (Mitch Rapp, #16) by Kyle Mills

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Enemy of the State (A Mitch Rapp Novel)
$17.39
By Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the title, Enemy of the State actually has nothing to do with Donald Trump and is, in fact, the sixteenth Mitch Rapp novel. (But god, what a Rapp novel that would be if our titular all-American hero were tasked with taking down a traitorous president wedged deeply in the pocket of Russian tyrants!)

This time around, Rapp is on a mission to exact vengeance against a Saudi Royal funding ISIS to carry out attacks on US soil. In the aftermath of 9/11 the American government turned a blind-eye to Saudi involvement in order to protect our oil interests in that region and play it safe politically, and helped to cover-up said Saudi involvement in the name of "national security." Saudi Arabia and its royal family got a sweet deal and a glaringly huge free pass after funding 15 of the 19 al Qaeda hijackers to carry out the largest terror attack ever perpetrated in an American city. After a Saudi prince is caught delivering a briefcase full of cash to an ISIS operative, Rapp is tasked with uncovering this terrorist network and destroying it. Because of the political BS and shenanigans of past presidencies, though, the stakes are higher than ever. The US cannot launch a direct attack against Saudia Arabia or its people with government resources, and must maintain plausible deniability. Therefore Rapp must quit the CIA in order to launch his counteroffensive and risk becoming...an Enemy of the State.

Plot-wise, I dug the story of this book quite a bit. Ignoring Saudi involvement in 9/11 was one of the biggest failings in our response to the attack, in my opinion, and it's pretty cool to see Kyle Mills use that topic as fodder for a new Mitch Rapp adventure. I also liked the Dirty Half-Dozen aspect behind Rapp's ad hoc team of assassins - it's pretty cool seeing Rapp having to work and strategize on his own without the support of the CIA and his usual team, and there's enough wrinkles along the way to keep one's interest.

For me, though, the best part is seeing Mills continue to humanize Mitch Rapp. After the death of his wife so many books previously, I felt that original series author and creator Vince Flynn was progressively making Rapp into more of a caricature than a character, a sort of Jack Bauer parody with the asocial sociopathic sadism cranked up to 11. Since taking over the series following Flynn's death to cancer, Mills has been slowly shading in Rapp's personality and bringing him closer to humanity than he's been in a very long time. While Rapp is every bit the rugged, no-nonsense assassin of the past, he's also becoming a bit more wry and willing to crack a joke. He's not exactly Charmin soft, but the way Mills has been working the character through his grief and confronting his inner demons has been perfect. Here, we get to see Rapp making some strides towards fatherhood as his relationship with Claudia Gould and her daughter, Anna, continues to deepen, and some of it's quite nice. I'm looking forward to seeing how Rapp and the people in his orbit continue to grow under Mills's stewardship.

And, of course, plenty more terrorist killing. Cause, damn, there's some good ones in here!

[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this title from the publisher as a member of their Mitch Rapp Ambassador program.]

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Review: Zero Sum by Barry Eisler

Zero Sum (A John Rain Novel)
$14.95
By Barry Eisler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a stand-alone title (The God's Eye View) and the introduction of new series heroine (Livia Lone), Barry Eisler returns with a new John Rain thriller, his ninth, a prequel title that picks up a decade after Graveyard of Memories.

This time around, Rain is tasked with eliminating a Japanese politician after taking a job from Victor, a Russian crime boss who has been displacing the Yakuza. Why Victor wants the politician dead and who he answers to are Rain's central mysteries, and after becoming romantically enmeshed with the pol's Italian wife and with his own life on the line John doesn't have a lot of time left with which to operate.

After last year's Livia Lone, I can almost imagine Eisler turning back to his series staple with a degree of relief. There's a comfortable familiarity to a John Rain book, even as we venture back in time to see a younger, less experienced, less seasoned assassin, and it doesn't have the brooding darkness and emotional torment that Livia brought along with her. While Rain is still an emotionally complex figure, and the author continues to find neat new facets of the character to explore, there's also a certain sense that Eisler is happily unfettered from having to explore the psychological repercussions of long-term abuse and the grisliness of sex crimes that predominated Livia Lone. In fact, there are several moments where this book feels downright fun.

Zero Sum is a leaner, breezier adventure with some great action scenes and a bit of tenderness thanks to Rain's relationship with Maria. It's interesting to see him romantically outclassed by an older woman who takes him to school more than a few times, and who leaves an indelible mark on his development that long-time reader's should appreciate.

Mostly, it's just good to have John Rain back again. I'd love to catch up with him in the present-day, post-The Detachment, but I'll take whatever I can get.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After taking a backseat for much of the prior book's narrative, PI Charlie Parker returns as the central focus to A Game of Ghosts. Escaping into the works of John Connolly is always a welcome retreat for me, although this fifteenth entry into this author's eponymous detective series fell a bit flat for me.

Still recovering, and likely permanently diminished, from the attempt on his life a few books back, Parker is back in action and tasked with locating a missing private eye, Jaykob Ecklund. This investigation leads Parker to The Brethren, a familial organization looking to keep its existence secret.

The Brethren also makes this the third book, out of the last four, in which a small, tightly-knit community-type band of sociopaths and psychotics are the central antagonists, following the far more dangerous members of Prosperity, ME from The Wolf In Winter and last year's cultish members of The Cut featured in a A Time of Torment. While there are some cool supernatural aspects behind The Brethren and the psychic visions the females of this line possess, the group are fairly weak villains taken as a whole.

On a narrative front, the story itself is a bit too complicated than is necessary, bulkier than it should be, and more than a smidge unsatisfying in its resolution. Connolly loads in a handful of secondary and tertiary characters, including a whole other subplot about the son of a deceased mob boss looking to make inroads into the heroine trade. Ultimately, this latter is a wholly superfluous addition to a narrative that already's stuffed with questionable motives, a series of homicides that may or may not be related either to one another or even the plot as a whole, and everybody's neighbors.

On the bright side, Connolly does inject a few surprising shake-ups, including the death of well-established character, and a final twist that puts an extra shade of gray on all that preceded it. The writing is grand, even if the story it services may not be the best, and the usual Parker series staples are on hand - good camaraderie, wry observations, witty dialogue, and enough subtle threats to make you feel mobbed up until the final page.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: Trackers 2: The Hunted by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Trackers 2: The Hunted
$13.29
By Nicolas Sansbury Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As much as I love Nicholas Sansbury Smith's Extinction Cycle books, his new Trackers series feels like a breath of fresh air with its lack of sci-fi horror creatures (and, mind you, I do love me some sci-fi horror creatures an awful lot). The drama and action in these books are spurred 100 percent by human actors and motivators, keeping the plot completely grounded in reality. With his other series, there's a certain element of the fantastic that helps provide a friendly buffer for escapist thrills, but Trackers carries with it a measure of authenticity that's all the more chilling.

Five days ago, North Korea launched an attack against the United States (in the book, I mean. But depending on when you're reading this, it could be true), collapsing much of American society with a massive electromagnetic pulse blast and nuking Washington, D.C. While the Korean threat continues to lurk in the background of The Hunted, the main narrative thrust concerns the dangers of homegrown American threats, specifically an Aryan splinter-ground calling themselves the Sons of Liberty. As with Trackers, Estes Park is Ground Zero for all the bad news, and Sioux tracker Raven Spears and Major Nathan Sardetti are again on the front lines and trying to hold together what's left of their society.

Smith's storytelling skills are front and center with this book, and he's crafted one heck of a page-turner. I had to force myself to slowdown at times, but the pacing of this book is so rapid-fire all you can do is try to keep up. It's like this sucker runs on rocket fuel, and boy does it ever burn hot.

I liked the first Trackers book a lot, but this one is even better. I attribute a lot of this to Nazi punching. There's a lot of skinheads in this book, and it's a real treat to read them getting their just deserts. I was whopping with joy as they got the snot kicked out of them, or met the business end of a rifle or axe blade. It's just such good stuff, and a perfect remedy for our current American climate where some people are actually questioning whether or not it's OK to punch Nazis. Pro-tip: It is ALWAYS OK to punch Nazis. In fact, there are few things more patriotic than Nazi sleaze getting the crap kicked out them by Real American Heroes, and Smith writes those scenes with his usual action flair. It's great!

This book gets all 5 Nazi-punching stars. And if you liked the first Trackers book, you're going to be in for a real treat with this seriously gripping second installment.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author.]

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