Mystery/Thriller Book Reviews

Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva

Putnam, February, 2005
Hardcover, 369 pages
ISBN: 0399152431
Ordering information:

Prince of Fire
by Daniel Silva Talented art restorer Gabriel Allon would like nothing better than to continue his work restoring the great masterpieces in Venice, as he tries to build a future with his new love Chiara. But once a spy, always a spy; the past never really recedes. When a terrorist bombing at the Israeli embassy in Rome leads to the discovery that Gabriel's cover is blown, he is brought back to Israel's secret service headquarters to regroup. The brilliant terrorist behind the bombing is Khaled al-Khalifa, the adopted son of Yasir Arafat. Khaled has a deep cover as a French archeologist named Paul Martineau which has kept him hidden from the eyes of the Israelis. But retired spymaster Ari Shamron, who once headed the secret service, has a few tricks up his sleeve. He recruits Gabriel and a group of young agents to track down and stop Khaled from committing his next terrorist act. But just when Gabriel thinks he is getting close to discovering Khaled's cover identity, Khaled neatly turns the tables on Gabriel at the last minute with a cruel, vicious kidnapping. But Gabriel Allon is one man who is at his best when his back is to the wall.

Daniel Silva does a masterful job of bringing the passions and ancient hatreds of the Middle East to life in this taut, gripping and intelligent thriller. Without prejudice, he portrays real people on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the tragedy of the violence and bloodshed that have haunted the area for thousands of years. In a part of the world in which events which occurred fifty years ago are as vivid as those which occurred last week, revenge takes on an entirely new level of meaning and seriousness. The spycraft is fascinating and Gabriel Allon, the tortured spy turned art restorer, is one of the most intriguing characters in espionage fiction today.

--Claire E. White

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe

Kodansha, 2004
Hardcover, 188 pages
ISBN: 4770030029
Ordering information:

Shadow Family
by Miyuki Miyabe Bestselling Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe (All She Was Worth) explores the world of Internet chat rooms and the lonely, alienated souls who use them to create surrogate families. Sergeant Takegami is a desk officer who doesn't go out in the field much. But when two murders appear to be related, that of a salaryman Ryosuke Tokoroda and his young mistress, Takegami finds himself an active participant in the investigation of the murders, along with his former (now disgraced) female partner, Detective Chikako Ishizu. Their investigation leads the to the Internet where Tokoroda hung out in chatrooms and created a "family" in which he played the Dad. The family also featured a wife, son Minoru, and a daughter Kazumi. Takegami brings in the false family and the victim's real family for a day of intensive police interrogation. Everyone has something to hide and everyone seems to lie. But Takegami is finding a new energy in this latest assignment.

Reading mysteries in translation is always a dicey prospect, especially a Japanese-American English translation. The cultures are so different, that the translator must translate not only the words of the author but also the context of the scene. The mystery plot is an interesting one and, after a confusing and slow start, builds into an intriguing police procedural. The characterizations are deft, the pacing is well-timed and the interactions between Takegami and his associates are subtle. Despite the nagging feeling that something is lost in translation, it is a most enjoyable read.

The Third Secret by Steve Berry

Ballantine Books, June, 2005
Hardcover, 416 pages
ISBN: 0345476131
Ordering information:

The Third Secret
by Steve Berry Father Colin Michener is the trusted secretary and confident of the current Pope, Clement XV. Waiting in the wings is the machiavellian Cardinal Alberto Valendrea, who is determined to be elected to the Papacy. Pope Clement and Cardinal Valendrea both know a dark secret of the Vatican which is related to the mysterious prophecies of Fatima. And Michener is worried about his old friend and mentor, who is spending much time down in the secret Vatican archives. When Pope Clement dies in a shocking manner, Father Michener finds himself entrusted with one last sacred mission from his old friend. But Cardinal Valendrea will do anything, including murder, to stop Michener from finding out the truth about the secrets hidden in the Vatican archives which could change the very nature of the Catholic Church.

The Third Secret couldn't have been published at a better time. With the eyes of the world on the new Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, speculation has been rife as to what exactly goes on inside the secretive Conclave of the Cardinals who choose a new pope in utter secrecy, cut off from the world. Steve Berry presents readers with a complex and charismatic hero who must face both the temptation of a forbidden love from his distant past who has reappeared in his life, as well as conspiracy, violence and challenges to his faith. Berry does an excellent job of keeping the pacing fast and his crisp, detailed descriptions of everything from the Italian countryside to the beauties of the Vatican are mesmerizing. Fans of Dan Brown will enjoy The Third Secret immensely.

--Claire E. White

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