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Content by Billy J. Hobbs
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Reviews Written by
Billy J. Hobbs "Bill Hobbs" (Tyler, TX USA)

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The Singer from Memphis
The Singer from Memphis
by Gary Corby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.97
32 used & new from CDN$ 19.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Corby continues his Greek investigations in fine tune!, June 27 2016
"The Singer from Memphis" is not about THAT singer from Memphis but about one from the Golden Age of Greece, some 25 centuries ago. But he can still carry a tune!

In Gary Corby’s sixth installment of the only private investigator in ancient Athens (Nicolaos, or Nico), we find yet another mystery to solve! Aided by his priestess wife Diotima, Nico is accompanying the noted historian Herodotus (the Father of History) to do some research in Egypt in 456 BC. There are certainly troubles afoot and Nico, who narrates this tale, cautions his noted scholar employer of that, but Herodotus just shrugs off the idea of danger and so they set to proceed. (We are told that Nico is the only private investigator in Athens and comes highly recommended by Pericles himself.)

But not so fast. Alas, on the way they face pirates and other sea-worthy obstacles. Once there, they find Egypt is beset with yet another of its famous and historical rebellions. The rebel leader himself claims to be a descendant of the last pharaoh and needs help in taking the city of Memphis (currently under the enemy’s control). The Persians (no friends of the Greeks) are working their magic (carpets and all) on the Egyptians in yet another historical example of hegemony. (Nothing under the sun seems new, even then.) And there are crocodiles—lots of crocodiles. And plenty of bad men, too, including he evil Spartan spy! The trio are not safe, for behind just about any pyramid is danger, indeed. But they continue to barge on down the Nile, researching, recording, and re-coiling (from danger!

While the issues they face certainly are serious (this is a spy thriller-murder mystery!), Corby’s style of writing is past paced and easy to read, laced with intermittent humor, and, of course, with proper suspense. This reader found both the Athenian and Egyptian descriptives convincing and authentic.

Fields of Glory
Fields of Glory
by Michael Jecks
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from CDN$ 6.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Jecks takes on the 100 Years War!, June 14 2016
This review is from: Fields of Glory (Hardcover)
After 32 successful books in his Medieval West Country Mystery series, Michael Jecks’ latest historical fiction thriller switches period and location.

In "Fields of Glory," Jecks plunges head first into the Hundred Years’ War.

It’s 1346 and King Edward III is restless. Despite earlier victories his army has still not achieved a major breakthrough and the French crown remains intact. Determined to bring France under English rule and the French army to its knees, Edward has regrouped and with plans for a new route of attack.

On the beaches of Normandy his men now mass, ready to march through France to victory. Alas, the French are nowhere to be seen! Edward knows that the worst thing he could do would be to take the battle to the French, where they will have the advantage. (“Merde!” he exclaims. What is a roi garçon to do!) He sets up a camp near a small hill at Crecy and waits.

Students of history already know the outcome of that battle, of course, as the Battle of Crecy will be a decisive turning point in the War.

Jecks, now, has brought us another story of that battle and the men who won it. As with his other novels, he is a master at creating suspense while at the same time staying within the boundaries of history. Adding the fictional account, through the eyes of his characters (and certainly that of Edward III) is a delightful touch—even in the bloody business of that war.

As he did with No. 32 of his previous series (Templar’s Acre), Jeck’s writing is meticulous in detail, and more than just “interesting.”

The King James Conspiracy
The King James Conspiracy
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A conspiracy of Biblical proportions!, June 10 2016
The action of Philip DePoy’s interesting and readable "The King James Conspiracy" begins with the comment: “The turning of the wheel by the tilling of the wheat.”

And if, historically, the translation of the Bible into English wasn’t controversial enough Aafter all, God’s word should be only in Greek or Latin, for if He’d wanted English, he’d have spoken English, the conservatives argued.)

So, despite the explicit backing of King James, settling on the “correct” translation was, indeed, highly debated, argued, and, now, folks are getting killed for it.

The good King, down from the hinterlands (Scotland) and openly proclaiming his Church of England loyalty (while secretly keeping his vows to the Church), knows this is a crossroads in history and he assembles biblical scholars to meet this goal. It is 1605 in Cambridge and shortly thereafter one of the scholars is found savagely murdered. Who would have dared harm a man on God’s mission? folks want to know.

Despite Deacon Marbury’s angst and concern, the killings continue. People right and left are offering to help, of course. Brother Timon has been sent by those wishing to halt the translation (and does HE have a secret pass, which includes more violence than we wish to know)! But the good brother, torn between his loyalties and his beliefs, soon discovers that there is more at stake than either translating the Holy Book or simply finding the murderer.

In good fashion, DePoy reveals that alarming secrets—ancient as the Druids—are clouding the case, and these secrets date back to earliest Christianity—and when revealed would threaten Christianity itself. (And as added spice, Timon becomes “acquainted” with the deacon’s beautiful and intelligent daughter, Anne, which, needless to say, tends to distract himself (The author, thank goodness, does not make the symbolism so obvious that she offers Timon a bite of an apple!). This aside, though, for historical fiction fans this is a good read—not Dan Brown or Robert Ludlum, but still a good read.

The 14th Colony: A Novel
The 14th Colony: A Novel
by Steve Berry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.25
30 used & new from CDN$ 23.21

4.0 out of 5 stars Berry's latest continues to thrill, June 4 2016
His legion of followers know that any Steve Berry novel is going to be filled with suspense, excitement, and the obligatory “conspiracy” ideas (did somebody say Robert Ludlum, Dan Brown, Vince Flynn, or Glen Beck?). In "The 14th Colony," Berry asks: What happens if both the president and vice president-elect die before taking the oath of office?

Alas, of course, the answer is: nothing short of total political chaos.

Once again, we find Berry’s superman ex-Justice Department agent Cotton Malone leading the cause of Good against Evil. Would you believe this time, Malone is shot down over Siberia (on another secret mission). He faces a fight for survival against Aleksandr Zorin, a man whose loyalty to the former Soviet Union has festered for decades into an intense hatred of the United States.

Malone learns that Zorin and another ex-KGB officer, a “sleeper” still embedded in the West, are headed overseas to Washington D.C. Noon on Jan. 20th--Inauguration Day--is only hours away. Zorin, armed with a weapon leftover from the Cold War, plans to attack. There’s a flaw in the Constitution that would benefit him should the Oaths of Office not be taken. And the Berry catch: He's aided by a shocking secret hidden in the archives of America's oldest fraternal organization (Not that Berry intends the similarity to be anything like any real secret society in America!)--the Society of Cincinnati--a group that once lent out its military savvy to presidents, including helping to formulate three invasion plans of what was intended to be America's 14th colony--Canada.

To go into any more detail would be “spoilers,” so suffice it to say, Malone, once more, rises to the occasion, but not before there are the usual hitches, catches, traps, and set-backs.

Berry fans will love this one, although it seems to this reader that the Malone books all seem ever so similar. Still, if it’s excitement you want, Berry (Malone)’s your man!

Target in the Night
Target in the Night
by Ricardo Piglia
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.24
23 used & new from CDN$ 10.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Piglia targets the night--quite well!, May 12 2016
This review is from: Target in the Night (Paperback)
I have long been intrigued by modern South American writers, from Jorge Luis Borges to Mario Vargas Llosa.

This year, Buenos Aires-born Ricardo Piglia won the Formentor Prize, following in the footsteps of Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, Javier Marias, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Target in the Night, his latest thriller (translated from Spanish by Sergio Waisman) also won the 2011 international Romulo Gallegos Prize. Piglia, who recently taught at Princeton for 15 years, is considered by many to be the greatest living Argentine writer. It is now being released in English.

We meet Inspector Croce, a legendary detective who gets results, even though he has “a few screws loose.” His new case involves the murder of a man who met the twin red-haired Belladona sisters in Atlantic City and followed them to the remote Argentine Pampas town their grandfather from Turin founded. Who killed him? And why? “The whole town participated in fine-tuning and improving the stories,” writes Piglia. “The motives and the point of view changed, but not the character. The events themselves hadn’t actually changed, only how they were being perceived. There were no new facts, only different interpretations.”

Target is a passionate political and psychological thriller, an intense and tragic family history reminiscent of a “little known” (much less read) work called King Lear in which the madness of the detective is integral to solving crimes. Like Lear, though, the reader has to do a little thinking along the way.... But the results are worth the effort. I read this in English translation—and can only imagine what it must be like in the original Spanish. Piglia deservs all the credit (and accolades) he is getting.

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
by Elaine Sciolino
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.34
38 used & new from CDN$ 18.53

5.0 out of 5 stars "The Only Street in Paris" is a nice stroll!, May 12 2016
“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogey tells Ilsa, and for years we’ve all believed that (in spite of last fall’s terror attacks). And for those of us who’ll always love (and have) Paris, Elaine Sciolino, a former Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, shares her love for her adopted working-class Parisian neighborhood in this delightful and detailed look at the Rue des Martyrs. "The Only Street in Paris" will evoke many fond, nostalgic memories from readers such as I, who’ve spent some time in the City of Light! (The Lost Generation folks must be smiling over this publication!) And it certainly brought back memories of my own!

The street is a traditional Parisian rue with a distinguished cultural history--the inspiration for Puccini’s "La Bohème," and Emile Zola’s "Nana," as well as circus paintings by Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s where Truffaut filmed scenes for his 1959 autobiographical film "The 400 Blows."

Sciolino brings us up to date with leisurely visits to her favorite café, shops, “the most seductive greengrocer in Paris,” and the second-hand shop where she took Arianna Huffington shopping, and the cabaret that inspired "La Cage aux Folles." Her knack for making friends and her reporter’s instincts keep this tour fascinating. Viva la France!

The Great Revolt: A mystery set in Medieval London
The Great Revolt: A mystery set in Medieval London
by Paul Doherty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.00
13 used & new from CDN$ 18.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Doherty's latest is 'revolting'!, May 12 2016
Readers who’ve been following the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan are in—finally—for a treat. Book 16 of this series finally gives us some “closure” in The Great Revolt. After several years now, Paul Doherty is letting the English folk of 1381 have their say! Our favorite monk of St. Erconwald’s parish, the good brother, has been monitoring this rebellion for years, as some of his parishioners—he knows—are part and parcel of this movement. He must walk a fine line here, for to veer in either direction would be most dangerous.

The rebel armies now are massed outside London, determined to overturn both Crown and Church. The Regent, John of Gaunt, has headed north to take care of a bit of unrest Up There toward Scotland, leaving his nephew, the boy-king Richard II, indeed, unprotected.

Brother Athelstan, meanwhile, has been summoned to the monastery at Blackfriars, tasked with solving the murder of his fellow priest, Brother Alberic, found stabbed to death in his locked chamber. Athelstan would rather be protecting his parishioners. Instead, he finds himself investigating a royal murder that took place 54 years earlier while the rebel leaders plot the present king's destruction.

What does the fate of the king's great-grandfather, Edward II, have to do with the murder of Brother Alberic more than fifty years later? When our sleuthing monk finds his own life under threat, Athelstan discovers that exposing past secrets can lead to present danger. Doherty never flinches as he pictures the life and times of Londoners of this century. His easy-to-read style always flows smoothly, never getting in the way of his story. This is a good read—certainly the climax to Brother Athelstan’s tales. And perhaps the author can pick up on some of the other series he has on-going.

Walking the Nile by Levison Wood (1-Jan-2015) Hardcover
Walking the Nile by Levison Wood (1-Jan-2015) Hardcover
2 used & new from CDN$ 53.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Levison's 'walkabout' is excellent!, May 12 2016
Many readers, no doubt, have paid their dues to Egypt and its Nile River. Either we’ve flown over it, floated on it, barged down it, or had coffee at the Nile Hilton and just watched the world go by, or we’ve read about it or seen movies of the fabled waterway. Levison Wood’s "Walking the Nile" brings back lots of fond memories, even though he trod those banks afoot, which most of us have not.

In November 2013 in a forest in Rwanda, Wood sets forth on foot, attempting to be the first person to walk the entire length of that 4000 mile long river, which flows from Rwanda clear up to the Mediterranean (as history and geography folks well know).

His fascination with this great river led him to undertake this journey. Trudging through the rainforests, swamps, and deserts “roughing it” (he shares quite a few “life-threatening” episodes), he gives us a real adventure story. In short, he reminds us that the Nile is more than a river in Egypt. Even if one has never seen the Nile, it’s still an exciting story.

In Satan's Shadow
In Satan's Shadow
Price: CDN$ 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well developed and fast-paced!, May 11 2016
This review is from: In Satan's Shadow (Kindle Edition)
If you are looking for a fast-paced, action-oriented thriller, “In Satan’s Shadow” is for you. Set, basically, in Berlin in the 1940s, the plot is straightforward enough. But don’t let the fast pace fool you—John Anthony Miller’s novel has all the intrigue, suspense, and nerve-wracking elements that will keep you turning the pages.

Michael York is a British agent assigned to “duties” in the Nazi capital. The war’s outcome is not yet decided—although cracks are beginning to show that the Thousand Year Reich may not be realized (this time around) after all. And in York’s business, just who can you trust? In addition to trying to find out what the Nazis are up to, so that he can report to his superiors in London, York stumbles upon other issues that not only concern him, but seem to confuse him about just what is the extent of his mission.

Fiction, it is, of course, but Miller’s handling of this story is enhanced not only as he seems to have captured the sentiment, the atmosphere, the attitude, the sheer danger of Berlin at this time, but he freely uses real characters to infuse realism in this story—names of the Nazis, for instance, with whom we are familiar. In addition, his own fictional characters are realistic enough to give the story a credible ring. His knowledge of Berlin and the German language certainly enhance the flavor and the setting. Having spent some time in Berlin (after the War and after the Wall was built), I found his penchant for verisimilitude another of the author’s strong points. I could figuratively “taste” Berlin!

I am not sure spy thrillers are meant to be “enjoyed,” but this one certainly created a positive reading experience for me, as we careen around the twists and turns of the storyline and its characters. I highly recommend it.

The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring Series)
The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring Series)
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Fast Paced" and a real page turner!, May 8 2016
Librarians and libraries can be thrilling. They can also be “thrillers”—and Brad Meltzer has given us a “thriller about a librarian” in "The Inner Circle." And the twists start coming as fast as you can turn a page (or whisper out—it in a library remember—Dewey Decimal System!).

Beecher White, as unlikely a leading man as one can imagine, is an archivist at the National Archives in Washington D.C. Buried in history every day, he makes a living by finding answers to arcane questions. “Mysteries are my specialty,” Beecher proudly confesses.

Alas, when Clementine Kaye, his elementary crush and first kiss, asks for his help in finding her father’s identity, Beecher can’t resist showing off his research skills. He’s been in somewhat of daze ever since his fiancée left him, and he sees now a chance to reconnect with his darling Clementine.

Of course, all this trying to impress a girl quickly goes wrong. Beecher and his security guard friend show Clementine the secret vault where the President comes to de-stress by reviewing old documents. The plot thickens when an accidental coffee spill unearths a torn-up old dictionary hidden under a chair. Voila! It just happens to be one that belonged to George Washington—one that may be used to send secret messages to the most powerful man in the United States (the president, not Donald Trump!).

But murder comes calling all too soon when the security guard is found dead and with fingers pointed in their direction, Beecher and Clementine go on the run. And, of course, the mystery of the dictionary must be solved! The more answers they find, the closer they get to the President and a secret that he and his inner circle are determined to keep buried (No, this is not a Steve Berry or Robert Ludlum book!).

Beecher steps up, though, shedding his naïve, nerdy, nice guy persona as he uncovers the layers of conspiracy. His librarian sleuthing skills prove invaluable and it’s impossible not to root for the little guy going up against the President. Fast paced and easy reading, The Inner Circle certain will hold your interest (and no late fees assessed!).

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