President Bill Clinton/ James Patterson – The President’s Daughter

President Bill Clinton/James Patterson – THe President’s Daughter

Matthew Keating wanted to serve a second term as POTUS, but his mission against one of the evilest terrorists went disastrously wrong and cost him the presidency. Now, he is doing more or less nothing apart from fishing and not so much enjoying himself. When his daughter Mel is abducted by IS terrorist Asim Al-Asheed who wants to revenge his wife and daughters, ex SEAL Matt takes it personal. Since the official agencies totally fail to rescue the girl, he decides to become active himself to get her back. He is still well-connected and secretly sets up a small team to do what a father has to do.

The second cooperation between former President Bill Clinton and well-known crime writer James Patterson is a fast-paced mixture of political and spy thriller which also gives deep insight in how the different national agencies work with and against each other. The thriller brilliantly shows that politics can be a nasty business where personal agendas at times conflict with national interests and ethics. Also, since the end of the Cold War, the lines between confronting enemies have become blurred and the world is a much more complex place with several stakeholders all acting and interfering simultaneously.

First and foremost, the novel lives on the protagonist Matt Keating who tries to free his daughter. Even though we first meet him in the role of the president, his former occupation as a member of the US SEALs is a much more formative aspect of his character. When he learns of is successor’s unwillingness of helping to liberate his daughter, he reactivates his knowledge and connections to rescue her on his own. Admittedly, I doubt how realistic this might be, however, it certainly makes a good action-loaded plot. The daughter, too, is a tough cookie, even though raised in a rather comfortable position, she is courageous and has a strong will to survive which gives her more power than was to be expected.

What I found most interesting, however, was not just the war between the terrorist and the USA but how China meddles and how conflicting interests endanger civilians which are nothing more than collateral damage. Ironically, it is a private affair that leads to the downfall of the current president – highly likely in our times.

Great entertainment which surely also works quite well on the screen since it incorporates the core virtues of bravery, persistence, teamwork and love.

Gustaf Skördeman – Geiger

Gustaf Sköderman – Geiger

Gerade hat sie die Töchter samt Familien verabschiedet, als bei Agneta das Telefon klingelt. Nur ein Wort wird gesagt, „Geiger“, und dann wieder aufgelegt. Agneta weiß, was zu tun ist: sie nimmt die Waffe, die sie seit Jahrzehnten versteckt hat und erschießt ihren Mann, bevor sie sich auf ihre weitere Mission begibt. Polizistin Sara Nowak kennt die Familie gut, ihre ganze Kindheit hat sie dort verbracht und war immer etwas neidisch auf die Mädchen und deren berühmter Vater. Von allen wurde er nur Onkel Stellan genannt und war in den 70ern und 80ern der größte Fernsehstar Schwedens. Jetzt ist er tot und seine Frau auf der Flucht, doch warum?

Gustaf Sköderman hat sich bereits als Regisseur und Drehbuchschreiber einen Namen in seiner schwedischen Heimat gemacht, „Geiger“ ist der Auftakt zu einer Thriller-Trilogie, auf deren historischen Hintergrund er schon vor vielen Jahren durch einen Zeitungsartikel gestoßen war. Was als Familiengeschichte beginnt, wird schnell zum Politthriller, denn der anonyme Anruf weckt die deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden, die seit Jahrzehnten auf ein Lebenszeichen gewartet haben und immer vermuteten, dass der Ost-West-Konflikt des Kalten Krieges noch lange nicht vorbei ist.

Der Markt der Nordic Noir Bücher ist inzwischen unüberschaubar, quasi täglich strömen neben den etablierten bekannten Namen auch neue Autoren auf den Markt und buhlen mit bekannten Mustern um die Gunst der Leser. Erstaunlicherweise wird man aber selten enttäuscht und auch „Geiger“ konnte mich von der ersten Seite an packen. Die Geschichte entfaltet sich im bekannt skandinavischen gemächlichen Tempo, nimmt dann aber mit zunehmender Komplexität des Falles auch an Fahrt auf bis hin zu einem filmreifen Showdown.

Der Autor macht ein inzwischen längst vergessenes Thema der europäischen Geschichte zum zentralen Punkt der Handlung. Zahlreiche Spione wurden zur Zeit des Kalten Krieges auf beiden Seiten der Mauer platziert, viele auch als Schläfer, die Jahrzehnte lang unbehelligt ein unauffälliges Leben führten. Schweden kam als neutralem Staat eine besondere Rolle zu, die letztlich jedoch nicht so unbeteiligt war, wie es schien. Auch kratzt er am Image der Politikerriege, denn diesen kommt eine mehr als zweifelhafte Rolle im Roman zu. Auch wenn ich einige Aspekte für etwas zu viel des Guten hielt und etwas weniger dick aufgetragen auch eine spannende Geschichte ergeben hätte, insgesamt doch ein Thriller, der die Erwartungen erfüllt und zur Abwechslung auch mit interessanten und widersprüchlichen Frauenfiguren aufwartet.

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Erin and her husband Danny are the perfect couple and still totally in love when, one morning, Danny’s partner appears unexpectedly at their door and Danny jumps to death. When Erin starts asking questions about the why, the police remain quiet, she only learns that there must have been some internal investigation and that obviously her husband wasn’t the good cop she has always assumed. Yet, a lot of things are strange and when Erin is approached by a guy named Cal who tells her that she shouldn’t believe the rumours because Danny wanted to help his sister against all obstacles within the police, she does not know what to believe anymore. Eighteen months later, she finds herself in court – charged with murdering her husband. How could things turn out so badly?

Again, Jo Spain has created a suspenseful novel in which nothing is as it appears at first glance. “The Perfect Lie” is not just around one lie, but around many lies, things left unsaid, bits and pieces which form a perfect picture but couldn’t be farer from reality. Since the story is narrated at different points in time, you quite naturally interpret the action based on what you know at that moment, just to learn a bit later that all your assumptions were totally wrong since you were lacking that relevant piece of information.

Erin is in her early thirties when she is confronted with the most tragic event imaginable: witnessing her husband committing suicide. Yet, this does not leave her grieving in shock and incapable of action. However, her questions are greeted with rejection and she is treated in the most horrible way by the police and her husband’s former colleagues and friends. No wonder she turns to the people who are willing to help her and one can only wonder why so many behave in this way. Suspense, however, is mainly created by the fact that she finds herself accused of murder only months later. As a reader, you witness the moment Danny decides to take his life, all is clear so quite naturally, it is totally unbelievable how this could have been turned against the widow. How far would police go to cover any trace of misconduct?

I was gripped form the start and couldn’t put down the novel once I had read the first chapter. Spain perfectly plays with our conviction to understand a situation based on the bits of information we have just to demonstrate that maybe we came to a conclusion a bit too quickly since things are not always what they seem. A superb read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Heidi Perks – The Whispers

Heidi Perks – The Whispers

When Grace returns to her British hometown of Clearwater after two decades in Australia, she hopes to renew the friendship with Anna. As kids and teenagers, the two had been close as sisters, due to her poor family situation, Anna more or less grew up with Grace’s family until they decided to move to the other side of the planet. However, Anna does not seem happy at all about Grace’s return, she has established a small circle of good friends and is reluctant of letting her former best friend join their group of four. After one evening at the local pub, Anna does not come home but neither her friends nor her husband seem to be really concerned so Grace takes over responsibility: she informs the police and starts to ask questions. Why do all people in the small sea-side town behave strangely? It has always been her to be in charge and to take care of the small and big catastrophes, so not much seems to have changed. But on her own, will she be able to find Anna and to uncover why all people are telling lies?

Heidi Perks wonderfully portrays life in a small town. Everybody knows everybody and is keen on spreading rumours, especially if there is something cheesy or malicious to share. As soon as Grace turns up for the first time at the schoolyard to bring her daughter to her new school, “The Whispers” among the mothers start and cannot be silenced anymore. Quite authentically, we hold as true the things we can observe and the bits and pieces of information we get and make sense of the story – and thus fall into the author’s trap since not much is really what it seems at first.

Admittedly, even though Grace as the protagonist is portrayed as a sympathetic woman, I did not really like her as she was, in my opinion, a bit creepy from the beginning. A lot of people live in the past and want to repeat it, therefore, returning to the place where she had a good time is not too strange, yet, the fact that she does not want to accept that Anna does not want to bond with her anymore and that she does not even make the slightest effort to find other friends, I found quite weird and obtrusive.

After Anna gets missing, the other characters indeed do behave inexplicably, yet, it does not take too long until the author reveals the other side of the story. As an experienced crime novel reader, you tend to be cautious and hesitant from the start when you are only presented with one character’s point of view, this is why I did not find it too surprising that not all things are what they seem at first. However, what I totally adored was how Heidi Perks managed to portray especially the small town women and their gossiping and how they make an effort of polishing their own lives to appear as someone superior to the others.

An entertaining read with some unexpected twists which brilliantly captures small town life.

Marc Elsberg – Der Fall des Präsidenten

Marc Elsberg – Der Fall des Präsidenten

Kaum ist er aus dem Flieger gestiegen, wird der ehemalige US Präsident Douglas Turner in Athen verhaftet. Der Internationale Gerichtshof hat Anklage erhoben und einen Haftbefehl ausgestellt, der durch die lokalen Behörden ausgeführt werden muss. Dana Marin ist als Vertreterin des ICC vor Ort, um den Vorgang zu überwachen, gerät aber auf das Bildmaterial, das heimlich angefertigt wird und sich sogleich online verbreitet. Damit beginnt dann auch das Kräftemessen: auf der einen Seite der ICC, der die Gerechtigkeit auf seiner Seite hat, jedoch über wenig Macht verfügt, lediglich auf die öffentliche Meinung hoffen kann. Gegenüber steht die mächtigste Nation der Welt, die sogleich die ganze Maschinerie anwirft, nicht nur um das ehemalige Oberhaupt schnell aus griechischer Haft zu befreien, sondern auch um im aktuellen Wahlkampf nicht das Gesicht zu verlieren. Gerade das Land, das für Freiheit und den Kampf gegen den Terrorismus steht, soll nun dafür angeklagt werden?

Marc Elsberg hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren einen Namen mit spannenden Thrillern gemacht, die insbesondere dadurch herausstechen, dass er aktuelle Themen für seine Szenarien wählt. Sei es die prekäre Stromversorgung im Notfall in „Blackout“ oder auch Gentechnik in „Helix“ – immer treibt er das Gedankenspiel bis an die aushaltbare Grenze. In „Der Fall des Präsidenten“ wirft er nun die ethisch-moralische Frage auf, wie viel den Ländern Recht und Gerechtigkeit wert sind und wie in Zeiten von Deep Fakes und Fake News die öffentliche Meinung beeinflusst und Wahrheit immer perfekter gefälscht werden kann.

Die eigentliche Handlung an der Oberfläche umfasst nur wenige Tage, in denen wiederholt das Gericht tagt, das über die Rechtmäßigkeit des ICC Haftbefehls und der damit verbundenen Auslieferung an Den Haag entscheiden soll. Spannend wird die Angelegenheit durch die Nebenschauplätze, an denen ganz verschiedene Aspekte eskalieren. Die Amerikaner nutzen ihre Vormachtstellung und drohen sogleich mit wirtschaftlichen Sanktionen, erlassen Einreisebeschränkungen und positionieren sich im Streit zwischen Griechen und Türken, um so den Druck auf das Land zu erhöhen. Von der Unabhängigkeit eines Gerichts kann kaum mehr die Rede sein, wenn eine ganze Nation in Sippenhaft genommen wird.

In der Sachfrage steht natürlich die komplexe Problematik im Fokus inwieweit ein Präsident für die Taten der Armee und einzelner Soldaten in Kriegen verantwortlich ist. An Kollateralschäden bei der Zivilbevölkerung hat man sich leider gewöhnt, der vorgebliche Zweck scheint sehr viele Mittel zu rechtfertigen, insbesondere seit 9/11. Einzig der Internationale Gerichtshof könnte hier Anklage wegen Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit erheben, aber er wirkt wie ein zahnloser Tiger und zahlreiche Ausnahmen und die Nicht-Anerkennung durch Länder wie die USA lassen vernünftige Arbeit kaum zu.

Die noch junge und wenig erfahrene Vertreterin des ICC erfährt die volle Härte der eigentlich juristischen Auseinandersetzung auf ganz anderer Ebene: sofort tauchen Bilder von ihr online auf, die in tendenziöse Zusammenhänge gepackt werden, andere werden direkt skrupellos gefälscht, um so die Öffentlichkeit zu täuschen und Meinungsmache zu betreiben. Verschwörungstheoretiker und verquere Denker lassen sich zudem ungehemmt mit ihren Theorien aus.

Ins Rollen bringt alles ein Whistleblower, der seiner Intuition folgte und sich nun größter Gefahr ausgesetzt sieht. Man weiß, wie insbesondere die USA mit in ihren Augen Vaterlandsverrätern umgeht. Schützen kann ihn kaum wer in dieser Situation, denn bei dem mächtigen Gegner ist sich jeder selbst am nächsten.

Auch wenn das Ende vielleicht durch die plötzliche Action etwas zu dick aufgetragen ist, ein spannender Thriller, dem es gelingt, die Komplexität des Konflikts und der Wirklichkeit unterhaltsam abzubilden.

Ein herzlicher Dank für das Rezensionsexemplar geht an den Blanvalet Verlag sowie das Bloggerportal. Mehr Informationen zu Autor und Titel finden sich auf der Verlagsseite.

Petra Johann – Die Frau vom Strand

Petra Johann – Die Frau vom Strand

Nach einer Fehlgeburt wollten Rebecca und Lucy sich zurückziehen und sind vom turbulenten Hamburg in der Ostseedorf Rerik gezogen. Offenbar tat die Seeluft gut, denn Rebecca wird sogleich wieder schwanger. Jedoch auch Monate nach der Geburt von Töchterchen Greta möchte sie nicht wieder zurück, sehr zum Leidwesen von Lucy, die zwischen ihrer Agentur und dem gemeinsamen Heim pendelt. Obwohl es nur wenige junge Menschen im Ort gibt, fühlt sich Lucy nicht einsam; als sie die gleichaltrige Julia kennenlernt, freut sie sich aber dennoch endlich eine Freundin gefunden zu haben, die beiden Frauen liegen sofort auf einer Wellenlänge. Aber dann verschwindet Julia plötzlich und es scheint, als wäre sie nie dagewesen, sie hat keinerlei Spuren hinterlassen. Unerwartet findet Rebecca allerdings eine Verbindung, die ihr Leben durcheinanderwirbelt und Lucy das Leben kostet.

Mit gleich zwei Mysterien wird man als Leser in Petra Johanns Thriller konfrontiert: wer ist die sympathische Frau, die aus dem Nichts auftaucht und ebenso schnell wieder verschwindet? Und natürlich: wer hätte ein Interesse am Mord von Lucy gehabt? Die allseits beliebte und immer auf Ausgleich bedachte Frau hatte scheinbar keinerlei Feinde und der Tod einer jungen Mutter erscheint völlig unsinnig. Das Ermittlungsteam sieht sich zahlreichen Fragezeichen gegenüber, die sich nur langsam auflösen.

Der Roman lebt vor allem von den Figuren, die wenig durchschaubar sind. Viele lernt man zunächst auch nur durch andere vermittelt kennen, Lucys Tod schon zu Beginn lässt sie nur noch in der Erinnerung ihrer Kollegen und Freunde aufleben – ein Bild das notwendigerweise Lücken aufweist. Auch Rebecca ist zunächst verschwunden, was an sich schon seltsam erscheint und sie verdächtig macht – dies passt wiederum so gar nicht zu dem Eindruck der liebenden Mutter, die sich in dem kleinen Ort und weitgehend isoliert dennoch wohlfühlt. Zuletzt natürlich die unbekannte Frau, die sich als Julia vorstellt, zu der aber außer Rebecca kaum jemand etwas berichten kann. Wo sie herkam, wer sie eigentlich ist und weshalb sie scheinbar gezielt zu Rebecca Kontakt gesucht hat – Fragen über Fragen.

Für mich kein nervenzerreißender Thriller, aber durchaus ein spannender Krimi, der den Leser lange auf die Folter spannt.

Graham Moore – The Holdout

Graham Moore – The Holdout

A reunion they have never really wanted since all of them only wanted to forget what happened ten years ago. When lawyer Maya Seale is first approached by Rick, she refuses, but her boss convinces her to take part. They were the jury on the most popular case of the time: 15-year-old Jessica had vanished and was supposedly murdered by her teacher Bobby Nock with whom she obviously had had an affair. Even though the body had never been found, the whole country was convinced that the black man had killed the daughter of a rich Californian real estate mogul. However, the jurors followed Maya’s arguing in finding Bobby not guilty. It took Rick, one of the jurors, a decade of his life to investigate privately and now, he has come up with new evidence he wants his co-jurors and the whole world to see. They return to the hotel where they were kept away from the public for months, but then, Rick is found dead – in Maya’s room. All is just too obvious: the one person who is responsible for the killer of a young girl running free now wants to protect herself by keeping the evidence secret. Thus, consequently, Maya is arrested.

The reader follows Maya Seale in her quest to prove her innocence. You know from the beginning that she is not a reckless killer and that she’s got nothing to hide, but much more interestingly than this already answered question is the one about the legal system: Maya’s chances of being acquitted from murder rise tremendously if she pleads guilty of manslaughter – there does not seem to be a chance of just telling the truth and it simply being acknowledged. So the interesting question actually is: how does the truth have to be framed, or to put it more explicitly: manipulated, to get the result you want?

Graham Moore’s “The Holdout” is a real page-turner. Once you have started, you cannot simply put the novel aside. It is fascinating to see how the law works, to follow the arguing of the lawyers and their weighing the different versions of truth. I also liked how the author created a jury of very peculiar individuals who all have their small secrets they want to hide. Yet, ultimately, they all come out, some with more, others with less consequences. The big mystery looming over the whole story is who killed Jessica Silver and why. This is very cleverly solved but also challenges the reader’s moral value system. At the end of the day, life is complicated and, at times, you have to weigh different perspectives against each other and you may come to the conclusion that one version of truth might be better than another.

A gripping legal thriller full of suspense and a lot of food for thought.

Carissa Ann Lynch – Whisper Island

Carissa Ann Lynch – Whisper Island

Riley, Sammy, Mia and Scarlett are art students at Monroe and working on projects together when one day, Sammy suggests a trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, where they could spend their holidays for free and profit from its remoteness and special surroundings for their artwork. Even though the others are not too keen on spending summer in the cold north, they agree and see it as an adventure. When they are on their way, Sammy announces that her brother Rob would join them, not just does she thus destroy the girls trip, but especially Mia is angry, her best friend should know that after their breakup, the wounds that Rob had caused never really healed. When they finally arrive, it is not just Rob but also his new girlfriend Opal awaiting them in a run-down house. But not only their lodging is a disappointment, also their boat to travel to the next town is out of order and then their whole trip turns into a nightmare when they realise that they are obviously not alone on the island since a murderer is on the loose killing one after the other.

Carissa Ann Lynch has chosen a classic locked-room setting which strongly reminded me of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”. Even though the students are not total strangers, they evidently know much less from each other than they thought before their departure. The story is narrated alternatingly from the points of view of the characters thus providing insight in their hidden thoughts and offering the reader, on the hand, clues to what could be behind all this murdering but, on the other hand, also a lot of red herrings which keeps suspense high.

The present events on the island are surely the main focus of the plot, however, the girls’ past, the things they hide from the others – and astonishingly, each of them has quite a story to offer – are much more interesting to unravel. Sammy soon hints at the fact that she did not suggest the trip out of the blue but actually had a good reason to vanish from Memphis and so had her brother. Mia seems to have been in a scandal a couple of years ago which she hopes the others have never heard of but of which the anniversary is close and threatening to make the others a see side of her she prefers to keep hidden. Scarlett struggles with drug abuse and hopes to get sober in the weeks on the island. Riley is new to the group and she is also the one who is quite closed up not giving away too much form herself and her family, so, what does she have to hide?

I liked the atmosphere on the hardly welcoming island which immediately gives you the creeps and fits perfectly to the plot. Speculating about why the six might have been chosen as targets was great fun and finally was revealed and explained. An entertaining and fast-paced mystery following a classic structure.

Courtney Summers – The Project

Courtney Summer – The Project

Lo Denham has lost her parents in a car accident in which she herself was also seriously injured and which marked her with a scar for life. Her sister Bea, six years her senior, is the last bit of family she has, but she has not been able to contact her for months. It must be The Unity Project’s fault, the sect Bea joined when she couldn’t make sense of the loss she experienced anymore. When a man claims that The Unity Project killed his son, Lo decides to take a closer look and to get nearer to the charismatic leader Lev Warren with the aim to expose the group’s doings in the magazine she works for. However, Lo is not prepared for the experiences she makes there.

Courtney Summers narrates the story from different points of view at different points in time, thus we get both sisters’ perspective on the highly emotional events in their lives. This also creates a lot of suspense since from the beginning, there are gaps which need to be filled to make sense. It also underlines the different characters of Lo and Bea which, nevertheless, does not hinder them from being fascinated by the same man.

The crucial point is most definitely the psychological impact a major tragic event such as the loss of the parents can have on young persons. Coming to grips with such a stroke of fate which does not make sense and is hard to understand is not only very hard but also makes people fragile and prone to others who are eager to exploit their situation. The leader of the group is surely an interesting character, it is easy to see how he manages to win people for his project and how he can make them follow him blindly. In this way, the novel also cleverly portrays the mechanism which work behind sects and which make it difficult to immediately see through them and more importantly to leave them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel due to the multifaceted characters and the message beyond the suspenseful and entertaining plot.

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

For many years, Kalitin has lived alone on the hill, in the house at the end of the road, isolated from his neighbours. He kept for himself, guarded the secrets of his former life, knowing that one day, they would catch up with him. Now, with the cancer in his body, there is not much time left anyway. His enemies are already on their way, two men, the ordinary set-up, to find and kill him. Agents who turn into angels of death because Kalitin not only knows too much, but because he was the man to develop Neophyte, a highly lethal substance which leaves no trace when applied, perfect to get rid of obnoxious people who know too much or who have fled the secure boundaries of their former home country. Such a behaviour against the code of honour is something Shershnev cannot accept. He has always been hard, hard against himself, hard against his son, hard against everybody. Two men who after a long life in the service of a country which does not exist anymore, have to fight their last battle.

“Kalitin knew that his inventions did not simply create specific weapons of death poured into ampoules. He also produced fear.”

Sergei Lebedev’s novel tells the story of two men who have seen everything in life and for whom life and death have been just states which a person can be in but nothing spiritual. Now, close to the end of their lives, they not only look back but also start to question what they have seen and done. “Untraceable” also tells the story of a lethal weapon we have heard of in the news more than once in the last couple of years. The time of shooting double agents, dissidents, whistle blowers and the like are gone, the strategies and means have become much more sophisticated, but one thing has remained the same: the human factor.

“In that world, most people did not yet see the dark side of science, its evil twin.”

For Kalitin, science, the discoveries and expansion of his knowledge about how nature works have always been paramount. However, he has come to understand that the leaders of the URRS for whom he worked had a different understanding and that, first and foremost, the individual scientist wasn’t worth much. He was only an obedient soldier on duty for the state. Surely, they gave him the opportunity to work in his lab, but at the end of his life, he also sees the price this came with and he can see the bigger picture. He wasn’t interested in politics, he has always seen himself just as a scientist, but eventually, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t so simple and that he cannot put the blame only on the others.

Shershnev, too, ruminates about his life which he has fully dedicated to the long gone state. He is one of the last still on duty who have lived in the USSR and who still, after all those decades, adheres to the old values. He has to admit having made mistakes. Big mistakes which haunt him now. Yet, he follows the assigned mission stubbornly, too weak to make a courageous decision himself.

The beginning was a bit slow, I didn’t get the connection between the different characters and chapter immediately. However, as soon as the main conflict was laid out, the novel was not only suspenseful but also morally challenging since it raises the big issue of science and the responsibility of the scientists. Additionally, it is no question that the former USSR was a rogue regime, yet, no system is flawless and to what extent each civil servant, soldier or simple citizen complies with given values and rules has to be answered individually.

A thrilling political thriller which also offers a lot of food for thought.